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Blows and Counterblows

Saturday 7 July 2007, by Marta Harnecker

1. The failure of the military coup in April 2002 (more than 80% of
the generals in operational positions remained faithful to Chavez and
the constitution) constituted the first great defeat of the
opposition and a real gift to Chavez. These new circumstances allowed
for the different actors to become unmasked and the people to acquire
a much higher level of political understanding (both within the
military ranks and within the civilian cadres, it was now known who
could be counted on and who could not be counted on). It created a
favorable playing field in which to move forward with cleaning out
the military institution. It divided the opposition. It reminded an
ever increasing number of the middle classes, who were previously
against the process, of the anarchy which would result from the
marginalization of Chavez.

2. The frustrated attempt to bring the country to a halt on December
2, 2002, was the second great defeat of the opposition. They could
not stop the country. Chavez did not bow to their pressure. But most
importantly, the petroleum industry came to be truly under the
control of the Venezuelan state. This was the second great gift from
the opposition. Due to their subversive and saboteur attitudes,
around 18,000 upper and middle-level managers who opposed the
government – and who actually exercised control of the company –
created the conditions in which they could be legally dismissed.

3. The ratification of President Chávez’s mandate in the recall
referendum of August 15, 2004 – a never-before seen process in world
history – was the third great defeat that the Venezuelan opposition
suffered in attempting to end the government of President Chávez. The
triumph, by an enormous amount of votes[1], and under the attentive
gaze of hundreds of international observers, who unanimously ratified
the results, was the third gift from the opposition.

4. It constituted, as one of the observers, well-known Uruguayan
writer Eduardo Galeano, put it, “an injection of optimism in this
world where democracy has lost so much prestige” due to the fact
that it has been unable to resolve the problem of poverty.

5. This was not the victory of a single man, but rather of a humanist
and solidarity-based project for the country, as much in the national
as in the international arena; of a project for the country which had
emerged as an alternative to the voracious and predatory neoliberal
model: a model of endogenous development and social economy.

6. It was a triumph of the current Venezuelan constitution, the only
constitution in the world that contemplates the idea of a recall
referendum for the presidency.

7. But, above all else, it was a victory of the people, of popular
organization, of the people from the barrios [poor neighborhoods],
but also of the people from the middle class, who responded to the
call of the president to organize themselves in their local voting
area, taking the initiative without waiting for the organizations
that were heading the electoral campaign to be constituted.

New post-referendum stage

8. With this triumph, a new stage in the Bolivarian revolutionary
process began. The media warmongers were left without ammunition. The opposition revealed itself; it lost a lot of credibility. The
internal struggles between different factions intensified.

9. The opposition had been defeated in this battle, but it was clear
that the forces supporting Chavez had not yet won the war. We cannot
forget that in a country of 26 million inhabitants, close to 4
million people voted in favor of revoking his mandate. Nor can we
forget the expectations that were created by this triumph amongst
those 6 million people who voted NO.

10. The challenges to confront in this new stage were extremely
varied: political, economic, institutional and communicational.

11. The Bolivarian revolutionary process had to make a qualitative
leap forward in regards to the protagonistic participation of the
people. The most important idea of President Chavez – “poverty
cannot be eliminated if power is not given to the people” – needed
to materialize into organizational forms and concrete participation.
And that is what occurred. The concept of the communal councils
emerged. Carrying out an approximate calculation, it was estimated
that Venezuela had around 52 thousand communities. And in each of
these communities, an entity needed to be elected, which would play
the role of a communitarian government. This entity was called the
communal council, and a majority of them have already received
government resources to begin carrying out small projects that the
community has prioritized.

12. It was also crucial to advance in the development of a new
productive model, as an alternative to capitalism. And that is what
is occurring. Venezuela is being transformed from a country which
survived of oil rent and the exportation of primary materials, into a
country with a solid agricultural and industrial base, which produces
goods and services that are needed for popular consumption. A model
based on new social relations of production that liberate waged labor
from exploitation by capital, by promoting companies of social
production inspired by principals of solidarity, cooperation,
complimentarily, reciprocity and economic and financial
sustainability. A model that aspires to territorial balance, and
harmonic and proportional development of the regions, in order to
overcome the housing problem and the collapse of the five large
cities in which 75% of the population is concentrated. A model based
on a new generation of basic companies orientated towards deepening
endogenous development. I am referring to the creation of Compañía
Nacional de Industrias Básicas (Coniba, National Company of Basic
Industries) and its eleven affiliates, and the Corporación
Petroquímica de Venezuela (Pequiven, Venezuelan Petrochemical
Corporation) that aims to strengthen innovative technological
capacities, in order to transform primary materials into value-added
products which would allow for import substitution and the
diversification of exportable products. A model that promotes state
investment in strategic industries like telecommunications (CVG
Telecom) and those that have to do with food security and
sovereignty, such as Corporación Venezolana Agraria (CVA, Venezuelan Agrarian Corporation), the parent company of the new enterprises in the agricultural sector.

13. On the other hand, the process of co-management has made notable advances in the electricity industry in the state of Merida, and in the aluminum company, ALCASA, in the state of Bolívar. And the number of recuperated factories in the hands of workers has increased.

14. At the same time, one of the priority tasks is the need to
resolve the problem of employment. With this objective in mind, the
state has being pushing forward with the reactivation of the private
industrial sector which is willing to collaborate with the project of
endogenous development and social economy proposed by the government. The framework for an agreement with this sector has been established, through which the government grants low interest rate loans, as long as these companies take onboard their social responsibility, committing themselves to dedicating at least 10% of their earnings to covering the most pressing demands of the nearby communities.

15. Following the referendum, there was a notable improvement in the
correlation of forces in the institutional sphere. The results in the
elections for governors and mayors were very positive for the
government. The opposition only governs in two out of twenty-four
states. All the deputies in the National Assembly are Bolivarian. The
opposition candidates, seeing that they were going to lose, opted to
not participate in the elections, hoping to discredit this
legislative entity in doing so.

The weaknesses of the process

16. This quantitative accumulation of forces should have translated
into a qualitative accumulation. An emphasis should have been placed
on efficiency, in better performances regarding the responsibilities
that each person must assume in order to put into practice all the
projects and initiatives announced by the government; but this is far
from having been achieved. The old state model continues in force,
and despite the attempts by Chavez to change things, is very strong.
The same has occurred with the issue of corruption.

17. Prior to the December 3, 2006 presidential elections there had
been very little, or no advances made in the formation of a political
instrument better adapted to the great challenges that the Bolivarian
revolutionary process has set for itself. There continued to be -
perhaps becoming even more accentuated - disputes over positions at
the different levels of leadership of the process. The Miranda
Electoral Command, formed to lead the presidential electoral process,
was hegemonized by the Movimiento V República (MVR, Movement for a
Fifth Republic), provoking discontent amongst the rest of the
political parties that support the process, as well as amongst the

18. On the other hand, rather than advancing in the construction of a
united instrument of the workers, this process took backward steps.
Today, there continues to be too much dispersion. Old methods
continue to be employed.

19. The opposition media outlets, which clearly make up the majority,
exponentially enlarging the errors and weaknesses of the government,
and distorting its project, thereby being able to recreate a climate
of opposition to Chavez, influencing a significant number of

20. Of course, the United States government - for whom, Chavez has
become a true obsession - has continuously been behind these campaigns.

21. Lastly, added to this daily and hourly media bombardment, was an
opposition that began to finally unite around the figure of Manuel
Rosales, as the opposition presidential candidate for the December
2006 elections. The, until then governor of Zulia - one of the
largest and most strategic states in the country due to the fact that
it shares a border with Colombia - carried out a well orchestrated
electoral campaign, promising to conserve all the good things that
the Chavez government had done for the people, and demagogically
announcing that he would also directly deposit into the bank accounts
of every poor Venezuelan household a significant sum of money,
product of the earnings coming from petroleum, so that instead of
taking money out of the country to help other people, he would be
handed it over to the people.

22. Able to sense all these limitations and obstacles, only weeks out
from the electoral event, the president began to personally assume
the direction of the campaign, appearing everywhere, in a tireless
tour throughout all the country, where the people from the popular
barrios applauded him with delirium. In the final two weeks of the
campaign, he began to involve the youth as the central motor of his
campaign, and to point to this social sector as the moral force which
would allow the process to overcome the vices that infected previous

23. Although no one doubted that Chavez would win, given the notable
advancements that the Venezuelan people have obtained thanks to the Bolivarian government, due to the reasons previously mentioned, it
seemed a difficult proposition that the Bolivarian leader could
obtain a better electoral result than that in the referendum. This
appraisal of the situation was confirmed by a majority of opinion
polls which gave him as the winner by a difference of some 20%, the
same 20% of more than two years ago.

24. Nevertheless, a clean election, with the lowest abstention rate
in the political history of the country (less than 25%), carried out
under the attentive gaze of hundreds of international observers[2],
ratified the mandate of the Venezuelan president by an overwhelming
majority of votes. Hugo Chavez got 7 million votes, 1 million more
than in the 2004 referendum, and the opposition, represented by
Rosales, maintaining its 4 million votes.

25. It was such a convincing victory that the current US government
had no other option but to recognize the triumph, publicly accepting
that a democratic regime exists in Venezuela, and expressing its
interest in establishing a positive and constructive relationship
with the new government. [3]

26. This was the fourth great triumph of Chavez, although this time
it cannot be said that it was the fourth great defeat of the
opposition, because, although they lost, they came out strengthened
from the battle. We need to accept that its most recognizable leaders
demonstrated maturity in acknowledging their defeat with nobility,
and stating their disposition to wage future battles within the rules
of the game laid out by the Bolivarian constitution.

27. For his part, President Chavez responded positively in front of
these declarations, stating his disposition for dialogue, but
“without conditions or blackmail”, and always so long as the
opposition did not intend for him to abandon his principles.
“Socialism of the 21st century is, and will continue to be, the
objective we are aiming for” he affirmed at the time.

The decision to promote the creation of a new party
28. In one of his first speeches after the election, Chavez put
forward “as a strategic fundamental line, the deepening, widening
and expansion of the Bolivarian Revolution… on the Venezuelan road
to socialism” and made three fundamental announcements, which
reflect the clear consciousness that the Venezuelan head of state has
of the weaknesses that plague the political process in his country:
the struggle against corruption and bureaucracy as two new strategic
objectives of his government for the next period, and a call to
construct the united party of the revolution.[4]

29. The first two announcements were not surprising, given that the
president had insistently stated over the previous months his
preoccupation with these issues, but the third announcement regarding
his decision to create a new political party - which he provisionally
called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela - was surprising. Not
because he had not referred to the issue before or had not conversed
about it with the leaders of all the political parties that supported
him, but rather because the news was not preceded by a profound
debate over the issue and because everyone was led to believe that
what they would be dealing with, at least initially, would be more
akin to the construction of a front of parties and not a political
instrument that would imply the rapid dissolution of the existing
parties, some with a long trajectory in the country, such as the
Communist Party.

30. Chavez was very precise in his speech: he rejected the idea of
what he called “a sum of acronyms”, at the same time as he put
forward the necessity to construct a new party with new figures
elected from the grassroots.

31. What we are dealing with is a political entity that would unite
at its core “all those Venezuelans willing to fight to construct
socialism [in Venezuela]: whether they be militants from the
political groups of the left, or members of the social movements, or
those compatriots who up until this moment were either not members
or, disappointed by the deviations and errors committed, had stopped
being members of some of the existing organizations.”[5]

32. Tens of thousands of activists[6], as part of this new political
project, went out to travel the country preparing a massive
inscription of all those who aspired to become members of the United
Socialist Party of Venezuela, the largest in the history of the
country. More than 5 million people had enrolled up until June 3, one
week before the closure of inscriptions.

33. Unfortunately, everything seems to point in the direction that in
order to obtain such a high figure, acts of “stacking” or pressure
were used on more than a few occasions, blurring the results obtained
and causing discomfort amongst many people. The president has called
on everyone to denounce these types of acts, and has given the
directive that it is necessary to “look after the process…. and
denounce in time any deviation” which could cause a lot of damage in
the future.

34. On the other hand, Chavez left it very clear – during his Aló
Presidente show on Sunday, June 10 - that one thing is inscription,
and another the selection process afterwards of those who will go on
to conform the new political instrument. His hope is that the new
party will be made up of tested militants, although it will only be
made up of a handful of people. What has not been spoken about until
now is how, or who, will carry out this selection.

35. At the moment, a revision of all the inscriptions by the CNE
(National Electoral Council) is in process. Afterwards, the inscribed
aspirants will meet in groups of 200 - the denominated “socialist
battalions” - to allow real, democratic participation by everyone,
and to facilitate the selection from below, of the best men and women
from these battalions as spokespeople to the Founding Congress, When it was previously calculated that some 4 million people would be part of the inscription process, it was estimated that around 22,000
socialist battalions would have to be constituted and each battalion
would elect a spokesperson to the regional assemblies, who in turn
would send spokespeople to the aforementioned congress. This congress would therefore be made up of around 2,200 congress delegates. Today, given that inscriptions have risen to over 5 million, new calculations will have to be made. What this formula does not resolve is what will happen when, by chance, various recognized leaders are concentrated in the same community.

36. The founding congress is expected to last three months, debating
all the issues related to the new party: the program, organizational
forms, type of membership and other issues, beginning with the debate
over what type of country are they trying to build. After each
session, these national spokespeople will go back to their respective
grassroots assemblies to keep them informed and to deepen the debate at this level. It will be from these grassroots assemblies that those aspiring to fill positions at the different levels of leadership in
the party will have to be nominated. Someone who does not count on
support in their local base cannot be nominated to a position within
this new political instance.

37. It is expected that through this mechanism there will be of
flowering of thousands of new faces, until now unknown, originating
from the new leaderships emerging out of communitarian work, and
workplaces and study centers.

The five motors

38. On January 10, 2007, after being sworn in for his second
presidential term, Chavez made another significant announcement: he
proposed the formation of the “five constituent motors” to advance
towards the socialism of the 21st century.

39. The first refers to the Enabling Law, which allows the executive
to legislative on areas where it is necessary to speed up the changes
towards socialism.

40. The second relates to the reform of the Bolivarian Constitution
of Venezuela, which would allow, amongst other things, the
modification of articles that in the economic and political sphere
are not in accordance with the project of the socialist society which
they are attempting to construct. There is nothing strange about the
fact that the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 has become too small
for the revolutionary process, just like a child’s clothes become
too small as they grow up.

41. The third envisages a campaign of moral, economic, political and
social education called “Moral and Enlightenment,” which has to be
as present in territorial organization (communal councils and other
organizations) as in the workplace.

42. The fourth, which the president has called “Geometry of
Power”, attempts to revise the political-territorial distribution of
the country, and generate the construction of city systems and
federal territories with the objective of redistributing political,
economic, social and military power more equitably across the
national arena.

43. The fifth, and most important, refers to “The Revolutionary
Explosion of Communal Power” and aims to promote communal councils
and everything that has to do with popular power

44. According to the Venezuelan head of state, these five motors will
be the ones that launch the “Bolivarian socialist project”.

Advances in nationalizations

45. In the last few months, there have been more advances made in
regards to the nationalization of companies than have been made in
the last 9 years of government, moving forward enormously in the
recuperation of the economic sovereignty of the country.

46. “Electricidad de Caracas”, the largest company in this sector,
valued at $900 million, was nationalized. The US multinational AES
signed an agreement with the Venezuelan government, handing over
82.14% of its shares.[7]

47. On the first of May, the Venezuelan government recuperated its
energy sovereignty by proceeding to nationalize the petroleum in the
Orinoco Oil Belt, where the most important reserves in the world are
located. There was a reduction of the power of the petroleum
consortiums that operate in this region of the Orinoco river, where
close to 400,000 barrels of petroleum are extracted daily, a figure
which could rise to 600,000 barrels. This measure will affect various
foreign companies. The most affected will be, from the US: Chevron,
Exxon Mobil, Texaco and ConocoPhilips; the French company Total, the
Norwegian Statoil; and the UK-based British Petroleum. For the
Venezuelan company PDVSA, until now a minority partner in this
consortium, the situation has become inverted: its quota will be 60%.[8]

48. On June 8, Compañía Anónima Nacional Teléfonos de Venezuela
(Cantv, National Anonymous Telephone Company of Venezuela), the
biggest private telephone company in the country, which was publicly
owned up until 1991, was renationalized. At the time of
renationalization Cantv controlled 83% of the internet market, 70% of
the national telephone communications market and 42% of international calls. It owned close to 3 million telephone lines and 100,000 public telephones.[9]

49. With this measure the Venezuelan state has advances in the
control of the strategic telecommunications sector.

50. The recuperated company is attempting to increase telephone
access to all areas of the country. In two years there will be a
tripling of areas with fiber optic coverage. Its services will reach
the most remote rural areas. As well as expanding the service, the
aim is to make it accessible to the lowest income sectors, lowering
the cost to make calls.

Non-renewal of RCTV’s concession

51. During the night of May 27, the broadcasting concession granted
to Radio Caracas Television, the most powerful opposition television
station in the country, expired. I agree with the Venezuelan
political analyst, Vladimir Acosta, that this was the second great
revolutionary moment of the process, following the recuperation of
petroleum in 2003.[10]

52. To convert a private channel into a public service channel is not
only a strong blow to the media hegemony of the Venezuelan
opposition, it is also an act “that goes to the heart of global
power”, because today this fundamentally depends on the mass media.
Without the monopoly over media to fabricate consensus, the supremacy
of this global power is enormously weakened.[11] It is because of
this that there has been such a virulent conservative reaction at the
global scale.

53. The measure was announced by Chavez months before. The opposition
immediately prepared its counter response. It tried to make citizens
believe that, with this act, freedom of expression would be mortally
wounded, and that the government was advancing in an accelerated
manner towards a dictatorial regime. After attempting various
mobilizations of the adult sector, none of which achieved the scale
hoped for, a new political subject appeared on the streets of
Caracas: the students.

54. Thousands of them, the majority coming from the private
universities, came out onto the streets protesting against what they
called the “closure” of Radio Caracas Television. Although their
intentions were peaceful, a group of students provoked disturbances,
setting alight bonfires in the streets, impeding traffic and forcing
police bodies to intervene to maintain order. The images of
confrontations between students and police traveled the globe, as
more proof of the authoritarian character of the government. What was
not reported however, was the fact that the majority of those injured
belonged to the police force, who had assumed a dignified attitude,
not allowing themselves to be provoked.

55. But what do these students represent? Are we dealing with a mere
apolitical movement, like they themselves and the opposition media
like to make people believe?

56. The strategy of the opposition has been to, on one hand,
“present the students as a unified mass” and, on the other, to
maintain their separation from the student movement, in order to
underscore its independent and spontaneous character.[12]

57. The first element of this strategy was rapidly pulled apart by an
important sector of the students who supported the measure adopted by the government. They came out on the streets on a mass scale.

58. In regards to the second element, everyday, new evidence is
emerging which reveals the behind the scenes intervention of the
opposition. There are not only recorded telephone conversations and
intercepted electronic messages which reveal their plans to use the
students for political aims, but also, on top of all this, there is
the irrefutable proof that one of the student leaders provided

59. The small group of student leaders who protested the “closure”
of RCTV, convinced by the propaganda spread by the media amongst
those that are assiduous, that chavistas are against freedom of
expression in Venezuela, decided to demand an audience in the
National Assembly, believing that this initiative would be rejected.
To their surprise, the opposite occurred, only that Cilia Flores, the
president of the Parliament, broadened out the proposal and decided
that this event would be used to open up a debate between students
from the opposition and those supporting the measure adopted by the
government. In a gesture, never before seen in the history of the
country, the National Assembly opened its doors to the students so
that they could come and debate.

60. It was decided that each current would be granted ten minutes
speaking rights. The opposition students entered the assembly wearing
red shirts, which was strange given that red is the color with has
identified chavistas. Afterwards it was discovered why: “far more
than a safety strategy: they were an integral part of a
professionally-designed media strategy”. [13]

61. Speaking rights were granted first to Douglas Barrios, a student
at the Universidad Metropolitana, a university known for harboring
only the elite of society. After a speech lacking in any substance,
where he called for a process of national reconciliation, he ended by
saying that he “dreams of a country where people are taken into
consideration without having to wear a uniform”, and having finished
this phrase, he and the groups of opposition students removed their
red shirts, allowing everyone to see the white shirts they had on
underneath, covered in different slogans defending RCTV.

62. All this could have been interpreted to be an original,
theatrical act of repudiation, if it had not been for the fact that
the last sheet of his speech was left behind on the podium. On it,
very precise instructions were given as to how they should conduct
themselves in the National Assembly. The text was signed by ARS
Publicity, a company which is owned by the Globovision group, which
was implicated in the April 2002 coup.

63. Taking off their red shirts, only speaking once, and to leave
immediately - all these were actions that were outlined in the
instructions. This last action was halted, at least for the duration
of the following speaker, due to the pressure exerted on them to stay
by the chavista students and the deputies of the National Assembly.

64. The self-proclaimed defenders of democracy were not capable of
democratically debating; they made only one intervention and then
retired from the scene. The self-proclaimed independents arrived as
pawns of Globovision. This is the hypocrisy of the opposition leaders.

65. It should remain clear that we are far from thinking that all the
students that marched against the decision to not renew the
concession are of this sort. We are convinced that the majority of
them will reconsider their position, when through healthy debate,
they know what the project for society, headed by President Chavez,
really is.

66. The events in Parliament only put into relief the strategy of the
opposition, but also, more importantly, revealed the extraordinary
student leadership that has emerging in the country.

67. One after the other, the ten speakers in support of the measure
adopted by the government began to dismantle, one by one, the
arguments of the opposition, with freshness, intelligence, creativity
and, above all, forcefulness. Who can argue, for example, with what
the next speaker, Andreína Tarazón, from the Universidad Central de
Venezuela said, when she criticized the behavior of the opposition
students, comparing their conduct in not facing up to the debate,
with that of Condoleezza Rice during the meeting of the OAS, where
she spoke and then left?

68. Those viewing television, who saw this transmission, live and
direct via a national broadcast on all frequencies, must have felt a
strong impact due to the quality of the interventions. They were so
good that it was not long before they began to be distributed via the
internet. There were thousands of people in all parts of the world
who were able to be astounded and amazed with the words of Andreína and her comrades. She transformed herself into one of the best ambassadors for Venezuela.

69. But the alternative media blow dealt by the left could not be
left unpunished. A few days later YouTube suspended the account of
the user named “Lbracci”, through which this experience had been
distributed in video format. [14]

70. On the other hand, new spaces for debate are opening up in all
corners of the country. And the youth sectors are proving in practice
that democracy exists in Venezuela.

71. Once again, an attack by the opposition has resulted in a very
positive event for the Bolivarian process: a new social actor, full
of force, of ideals, has entered into the political sphere. There is
no doubt that those students who support the government have
everything to win. A project for a more humanistic and solidarity-
based country, that puts its efforts into eliminating inequalities;
that calls for the exercising of a growing social control over all
activities, in order to struggle against the scourge of corruption;
that recuperates the sovereignty of the homeland. It is a project
that the Venezuelan youth cannot afford to be indifferent towards.