Crucial Elections in Venezuela

Armando Chaguaceda

Hugo Chavez. Photo: Venezuelan presidency

HAVANA TIMES — It’s been 14 years since Hugo Chavez burst into the Venezuelan presidency, and with him his project known as the “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Weariness with the corruption of the Fourth Republic and the exclusion of the poor (who were suffering the impact of neoliberal policies) led to the establishment of an electoral front that put forward the lieutenant colonel, who won by a large margin over the other candidates, especially the representatives of the traditional parties.

From that moment on, the new government faced stiff resistance from those parties, as well as from an alliance of the media and the urban middle and upper classes, which in 2002 and 2003 turned to strategies of destabilization, including a failed coup. The new government managed to weather the storm, reconstructing a framework of domestic and international legitimacy in successive elections from 2004 to 2006.

The process, in an attempt to overcome the deficits of the Fourth Republic, expanded citizens’ participation in Venezuela and put the social agenda in the center of the debate. Public policies grew, generating processes for including the marginalized – thanks to revenues generated by oil.

These elements — certainly positive — joined the redefinition of the regulatory framework (with a new constitution and the passage of new laws) with the recuperation of the role of the state as an active agent in national life, as it delineated the main features of the project that was (self) identified as Bolivarian.

But the democratizing effect of the new government was gradually tinged, starting in 2006, by increasing personal ambitions and political bureaucratization with the emergence of a hyper-presidential regime, a dominant political organization (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV), and the development of participatory mechanisms (community councils) that operated as instruments of political control and mobilization.

The rise of Hugo Chavez’s charismatic leadership was accompanied by the discretionary use of state resources, as well as by the usurpation of the other national powers, both in party politics and social forces (movements, organizations) and the media, including those identified with the bourgeoisie as well as by popular figures and the independent left.

With the spreading of the idea of “Socialism of the 21st Century,” the promotion of new enabling legislation, the proposal for constitutional reform and the creation of the PSUV, these steps advanced the authoritarian and statist tendencies, which were particularly visible in government institutions, the economic model and the legal architecture of the nation.

The concentration of power, which converges in the figure of President Hugo Chavez, appeals to a leader-masses relationship and confrontation with the enemy (opponents) in a strategy that tends to increasingly ignore current political norms — including the constitution itself — and which involves the manipulation of justice, control and surveillance of the press, and setbacks with respect to the human rights situation.

Likewise, within the Bolivarian ranks themselves, restrictions have been placed on the options for dissent and participation in the construction of the process; instead, there are constant appeals to the commander-president, to a military lexicon (using words like “battle,” “campaign” and “missions”), and reliance on command and control styles implemented within the vertical structure of Chavez that leave no room for such “bourgeois folly.”


Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Foto:, March 2012.

With such a backdrop, Venezuela finds itself heading for the upcoming October 7 elections, one of the most significant moments of contemporary political history. On one side, this will reveal all of the strengthening and wearing down of a government anchored in power for 14 years, one whose success depends largely on the charismatic leadership of Hugo Chavez and the scope of his successful (yet deteriorated) social policies.

In the opposite corner, a motley opposition seems to have overcome its errors and divisions and has projected the youthful figure of Henrique Capriles, speaking in less belligerent language than his opponent but sharing the rosary of promises, magical-religious allusions and a not always well outlined program.

Both options seem not to have convinced an important segment of the electorate (the “neither-nors”), those who vacillate between recognition of the positive social management of the Chavez government and opposition to his authoritarian manner; they swing between hope for change and distrust of the old elites who surround the opposition candidate.

The underlying drama, however, is that the large blocs competing in the current electoral conjuncture — the Chavistas vs. the anti-Chavistas — are appealing to similar organizational and identifying elements: parties with diffuse ideologies, charismatic leadership, the use of rhetoric; and populist, patronage-fueled mobilizing programs and styles.

A depolarizing option (combining the defense of rights and freedoms with a sincere and substantive concern for social justice) has been obstructed by the polarized atmosphere as well as the institutional design (see the “Organic Law on Electoral Process”) that favors and perpetuates it.

Experiences like the “Partido Patria para Todos” party, in 2010, and the bloc of popular organizations that proposed labor leader Orlando Chirino as an independent candidate — against the officialist ruling party and the opposition — don’t seem to have many options in the current scenario, even when their presence is hopeful for those of us who identify with a socialist and democratic option as a solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

Once again, the relationship between the possible, the probable and the preferable is straining the panorama of political analyses and options. This explains why in the upcoming presidential election, the gaze of more than a few democrats and social activists is focused on preventing the victory of Chavez, whose victory — if we consider the sustained and belligerent references of his performance and speech — threatens to radically capture and transform the political arena, negating the possibility of representing political plurality and a correlation of forces and eliminating the autonomous action of citizens.

This is an interpretation accompanied by the realization that even if Capriles wins, he would have to incorporate those popularly recognized policies of the current government — social missions and community participation — and govern with a style and program of national (re)conciliation, in light of the enormous heterogeneity of the alliance around his candidacy and in the face of Chavez’s political strength, which would be converted into (unless an electoral defeat or the death of their leader plays out adversely) a formidable and united opposition.

Unlike in other nations of the hemisphere, what’s at stake in Venezuela isn’t a simple rotation within the ruling elite or some moderate shift in the continuity of a political and economic project of integration into the system of globalization.

The central dilemma of every Venezuelan is whether they will again cast their vote (and their trust) in a government that threatens to radically and irreversibly alter the political field with the advancement of its authoritarian tendencies, or whether they will choose an alternative — with its inconsistencies and weaknesses — that objectively would have to negotiate with its opponents and the rest of society to lay better foundations for the exercise of citizens’ rights and autonomy and political pluralism.

Because of that, many people won’t vote so much for Capriles and his electoral alliance/program as they will against Chavez and his visible hegemonic project. Whatever the result of the October 7th elections (the change of a regime or the deepening of an authoritarian course), the fact is that a new stage begins in Venezuela of increasing complexity and political risks.


Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

4 thoughts on “Crucial Elections in Venezuela

  • It is known to the entire world that there a thriving rabidly anti-Chavez private media in Venezuela (available even on certain Spanish channels here in the US). It is also indisputable that elections under the government of Hugo Chavez are probably the most internationally-monitored and scrutinized anywhere in the world! Yet Mr Chaguaceda regurgitates all the fashionable, anti-Chavez, anti-left lexicon of Western corporate media in his portrait of the democratically-elected Venezuelan leader: “authoritarian”, “dominant political organization (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV)”, “instruments of political control and mobilization”, “usurpation of national powers“.

    Conveniently, there is only a brief, casual mention of “strategies of destabilization, including a failed coup“ in 2002 and 2003 ascribed to local players identified as “the traditional parties“ and “an alliance of the media and the urban middle and upper classes.” The truth, however, remains that the government of Hugo Chavez has been the object of a massive and continuous regime-change effort by the United States, first under Bush (Dubya), then escalated even much further by the Obama Presidency. Under Obama, not only are funds being sourced to advance the political work of the opposition through organizations such as USAID and the NED, but a military plan has also been activated using the national territory of Colombia to surround Venezuela with a ring of seven US military bases. Further military contingency plans are also in place involving the use of the island of Aruba under control of the Netherlands. The US-sponsored military coup against Manuel Zelaya of Honduras as well as the constitutional coup against Ferdinand Lugo of Paraguay are also seen as actions to alter the balance of forces in Latin America and to increase the geo-political pressure on Venezuela. It is no secret that US actions against the Bolivarian government of Venezuela are dictated by its coveting of Venezuela’s nearly infinite energy resources.

    As in the last election, Chavez has given his word that he will accept the result of the coming elections whatever they may be. What the corporate propagandists of imperialism and other opportunists do not understand is that the Bolivarian leader, unlike they, has the complete conviction born out of struggle and history that, come what may on the electoral front, the people’s struggle itself can never be defeated!

  • Extremely interesting article and comments. I suppose “a simple rotation within the ruling elite” is what we also see in one-party systems like in Cuba as well as in the so-called ‘liberal democracies’ which are actually one-party systems with different ‘factions’.

    I agree with ‘Jorge’, the phrase “even if Capriles wins, he would have to incorporate those popularly recognized policies of the current government” leaped out at me. The fallacy this represents is, in systems of representative government, you rotate power from one faction to another. The other faction then becomes obsessed with getting back into power.

    “Popularly recognized policies ” would take a back seat to this obsession. And Capriles will be quite happy engaging in the power game, doing whatever to stay in power. Since the other side was voted out, he would perceive any “popularly recognized policies” as not being critical to staying in power. The end result is, what is popular with people disappears down a sewer hole.

    That’s the way it works, as I’ve seen it all my life, in my so-called liberal ‘democracy’.

    One can argue, I think, that with US hostility to Cuba’s revolutionary government from the outset, it has effectively created the same situation that Venezuelans are now facing – a choice between staying with a government that represents the values of the Revolution, albeit perceived as increasingly authoritarian – if in actuality, due to the hostility, I think, as in Venezuela, more than the time in power – or going for a system that appears to offer relief from authoritarianism – what is being sold by the US.

    It is worth noting, I think, that US propagandists posting comments on this website have two favourite themes – the length of time the Castros have led the government and its ‘authoritarian’ nature. Clearly the propagandists are attempting to create perceptions in Cubans’ minds, first that there is something inherently wrong with extended periods in office and second, that the Castros are authoritarian “dictators”. It is possible that Venezuelan elites have been successful at fixing both perceptions in the minds of their citizens.

    In Venezuela, there has always been a significant opposition to Chavez – from powerful elites who mostly control the media – despite his immense popularity with people. One can also argue that this is exactly the same as in so-called ‘liberal democracies’ elsewhere, only they have been more successful in keeping out popular leaders altogether. Chavez barely made it, recalling the coup that ultimately failed, quickly supported by the US.

    Capriles offers another opportunity to get rid of Chavez. It goes without saying that US money and agents will be working feverishly on Capriles side, especially as it represents an opportunity to eliminate one of Cuba’s chief supporters. One of the news wires – maybe Reuters as I remember – obtained a few years ago, through the freedom of information act, a list of all the money that goes to Venezuelan groups to support “democracy”. Cubans know what that means. The list was quite long.

    The elites stay in power mainly through control of media. It is tried here, another media opportunity, incessantly. Awareness of what is taking place is the best defence against it.

  • Hi Chagua,

    I disagree with many aspects of your analysis, particularly the idea that Chavez represents a shift towards authoritarianism, when as a matter of fact during the years of his presidency there has been a massive flourishing of popular participation and organisation from below, as well as the most advanced experiences of workers’ control and management anywhere in the world (though this have been fought curtailed by the “Bolivarian” bureaucracy).

    One thing however stands out. You say that “even if Capriles wins, he would have to incorporate those popularly recognized policies of the current government — social missions and community participation — and govern with a style and program of national (re)conciliation” and add that under Capriles there would be “better foundations for the exercise of citizens’ rights and autonomy and political pluralism.”

    This is absolutely wrong and flies in the face of all experience. All of the parties which support the MUD campaign were involved in the failed oligarchic-imperialist coup of 2002. Capriles himself participated in the assault on the Cuban embassy. When Capriles was elected as governor of Miranda he immediately launched an assault against all the social programs of the revolution.

    There is a good reason why the whole of the capitalist media internationally, from the Financial Times to the Wall Street Journal, from El Pais to The Economist, etc are fully behind Capriles – and there is a good reason why the campaign in Venezuela itself is strongly polarised along class lines: because everyone knows, on both sides, that Capriles represents a turn to the right and neo-liberal policies of austerity and cuts in social spending (inevitably combined with authoritarianism), while Chavez represents public spending, social programs and opposition to capitalism and imperialism (whatever his faults and shortcomings).

    In such a battle, democrats and socialists cannot be on the side of the oligarchy and imperialism.

    It would be like saying that the overthrow of the Cuban revolution at the hands of the gusanos would be positive because it would bring “democracy”.


  • rotation within the ruling elite is an interesting phrase. an apt description of liberal democracies.

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