By Federico Fuentes
03 May, 2007
Returning once again to Venezuela — having last spent four months
here in 2005 — I recalled a refrain that had been constantly repeated
by Venezuelans: "After we re-elect Chávez in 2006, the real
revolution will begin." It took very little time for me to realise
exactly what they meant.
I arrived on the eve of the
fifth anniversary of those historic events that shook Venezuela from
April 11-13 in 2002 — a US-backed coup that was overturned by
a subsequent mass uprising of the poor in alliance with the majority
of the armed forces. Across all of Caracas, banners and billboards carried
the slogan that summarised what had occurred on those fateful days:
"Every 11 has its 13 — From oligarchic counter-revolution
to civic-military revolution." Throughout the city, numerous screens
had been set up to play video footage of the massive rebellion that
reversed the coup — which was aimed at putting an end to the Bolivarian
process and protecting the interests of the wealthy elite — and
reinstated President Hugo Chávez. State television played documentaries
through the three days, detailing the events surrounding the coup and
On the streets, everyone
was remembering what it was that they did during those days. It was
impossible to miss the upbeat feeling among the people on April 13,
as hundreds, and then thousands, began to congregate outside the presidential
palace, just as they had five years ago, to await their president.
Speaking in front an estimated
million-strong demonstration, Chávez recalled the events that
led up to the coup attempt, pointing out that it had acted as a "trigger,"
pushing the process towards "an anti-imperialist revolution, because
we know from where [these events] were led and planned from, the US."
Now five years on, Chávez
called on the Venezuelan people to "radicalize" the revolution
towards the "new socialism of the 21st century," to thunderous
applause and chants of approval.
Throughout most of 2005 and
2006, the Venezuelan government focused its attention on consolidating
its support internally and internationally. On the domestic front the
government paid particular attention to strengthening the social missions
in order to attack poverty and organise the population.
In the international arena
Chávez travelled the world, seeking support for his government
in the face of continued US hostility and Washington's attempts to isolate
Venezuela diplomatically. Throughout the Third World, the Venezuelan
government signed trade agreements, deepening both economic and social
ties as part of a campaign to create an international anti-imperialist
By trading not just in dollars
and petroleum, but in human capital — providing, jointly with
revolutionary Cuba in many cases, education and health programs —
and through Chávez's defiant and outspoken stance, such as his
denunciation of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the Bolivarian revolution
has captured the hearts and minds of millions across the world.
This has helped provide the
space for a rapid acceleration of the Bolivarian revolution, and with
it an opening up of a period of definition of the process's goals and
line of march. In the economic sphere, Chávez told the April
12 rally, the government has "no plan to eradicate private property
in Venezuela, as long as it subordinates itself to the national interest
and the socialist project." If it didn't, then it was "condemned
to progressively disappear."
He added, however, that the
government's emphasis would be in working with "new forms of property,
social property … collective property … co-management, self-management."
It would encourage "direct or indirect social property via the
companies of social property, of social production, and many other mechanisms
that we are designing."
The first morning here I
attended a meeting called by one of the currents in the National Union
of Workers (UNT) to discuss the formation of Bolivarian Councils of
Workers, more commonly dubbed workers' councils. Describing the nature
of the discussion over these councils, Marcela Maspero, a national coordinator
of the UNT, said that the councils had to be "political organisations
of the working class, based on direct democracy and control over production."
They had to play the role
of "eradicating capitalist exploitation, and transforming relations
of production in order to create socialised ownership over the means
of production." Although these councils have only just begun to
appear in a handful of companies, an intense debate at both the governmental
and grassroots levels is unfolding over their nature and role.
In the social sphere, Chávez
has called for "an explosion in communal power," urging the
rapid construction of Communal Councils. These councils are based on
the coming together of 200-400 families in urban areas, even less in
rural areas, in order to plan and execute projects for the benefit of
the community. In some areas, this has already progressed to the point
where discussions have begun on the need to establish federations of
Communal Councils, in order to tackle larger projects. There are now
more than 19,000 Communal Councils. In essence, the aim of the Communal
Councils is for power to reside in the communities. This has led to
some cases where these councils have come into conflict with the existing
state structures, where those who currently hold power fear losing it
— a constant battle the revolution encounters as it comes up against
the structures of the old state bureaucracy.
Perhaps most importantly,
Chávez stated in his speech on April 13 that the revolution once
again called on the Venezuelan people to participate in the formation
of the new united socialist party. Stating that to date the revolution
"hasn't had real parties," he referred to the construction
of the new party as "the greatest necessity of this revolution."
On April 19, 16,000 promoters
of the new party were initiated. Their task is to agitate for, and involve
the communities in, the construction of the party, which organisers
estimate will bring together 4-5 million people.
Chávez's call has
opened up a big debate on what the nature and program of such a party
should be. For now, apart from Chávez's party, the Movement for
a Fifth Republic (MVR), the main Chavista parties have decided not to
dissolve into the new party. However, large fractures have begun to
occur as both leaders and rank-and-file members of these parties —
Homeland For All (PPT), Podemos and the Venezuelan Communist Party —
are leaving en masse. Most of the parties outside of the official Chavista
electoral alliance but committed to the revolution have decided to integrate
themselves into the new party, with a few waiting on the sidelines to
see how things unfold first.
The party will be established
along democratic lines, from the bottom up. For several weeks from April
29, 6000 booths will be set up all over the country for people to sign
up to the new party. Next, the new joiners will be divided up into basic
cells of 200 people based on territorial divisions, universities and
factories. Out of each, a spokesperson will be elected to participate
in the founding congress. No quotas have been set aside for party officials,
nor will anyone automatically secure a place in the congress. Even Chávez
will have to be elected by his local cell if he is to participate in
The founding conference will
run for approximately three months. As the congress deliberates, spokespeople
will return to their local cell, back to the congress, then back to
the community and so on. On December 2, a referendum of all members
will decide whether or not to approve the founding program of the new
party. To ensure transparency and democracy, the national electoral
commission will run the whole process.
It will be a truly democratic
and participatory process, never seen before on this scale, with the
aim of drawing together the real leaders from the communities into a
process of discussion and debate aimed at driving the process forward.
Without doubt, the more this
revolution deepens the more desperate the opposition will become. At
the same time as Chávez was giving his speech, a small explosive
was detonated in the building that houses the legislative council of
the state of Miranda. This followed two other explosions in shopping
centres earlier that week. Although no-one was killed, the intent was
May 28 is the expiration
day of the license of RCTV, a television station that openly participated
in the 2002 coup plot. While the government never shut it down, it has
decided to hand RCTV's license over to community media as part of a
program of expanding access to media. Chávez warned that the
government had reliable information that the opposition had begun a
destabilisation plan aimed to culminate on the day of the expiry of
the license, of which the bombs and the attempts by big capital to create
food shortages are only the first steps.
But the Venezuelan people,
side by side with the military, have etched in their memories the events
of April 13, 2002, because as they say in Venezuela, "every 11
has its 13."
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