Reform Battle Continues
As Chavez Ally Splits
By Federico Fuentes
14 November, 2007
Green Left Weekly
Caracas : Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took
to the streets of Caracas on November 4, in a massive sea of red, to
support the proposed constitutional reforms adopted by the National
Assembly that will be put to a referendum on December 2. Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez has explained that the reforms aim to deepen the
Bolivarian revolution that his government is leading, which has already
achieved significant gains in redistributing wealth and power to the
On November 6, Chavez explained
to a swearing-in ceremony for activists involved in the National Zamora
Command, launched to campaign in favour of the proposed reforms, that
the referendum "is the most important battle" of the Bolivarian
revolution so far. He said "destabilisation, abstention and the
'No' vote, are the three principal adversaries we have to defeat".
Chavez argued that the socialism
the reforms aimed at providing a framework to help construct would be
"democratic and humanist". Chavez explained that "this
economic system will be managed by everyone", claiming that democratising
the economy was essential to defeat poverty and create happiness.
He argued that this conflicted
with the interests of capitalism and imperialism, and that this explained
the ongoing offensive against his government by the US government and
Confirming Chavez's speculation
in his speech to the November 4 rally that some leading Chavistas would
jump ship and join the counter-revolutionary opposition, the following
day retired General Raul Baduel, who had been defence minister until
July and who played a key role in defeating the April 2002 US-backed
military coup against Chavez, broke a three-month silence declaring
his opposition to the reforms. He said they represent a "constitutional
coup" — the same claim made by the right-wing opposition.
During the press conference,
to which only pro-opposition media outlets were invited, Baduel argued
that the proposed reforms would "seize power away from the people".
"The only democratic and legal means left to us is to vote 'No'
and defend ourselves [against] this undemocratic imposition."
Baduel called on the armed
forces to "profoundly analyse" the proposed changes to the
structure of the military (transforming the reserves into a "popular
militia" among other steps), declaring "it must be stopped",
adding that "the capacity of Venezuelan military men to analyse
and think" should not be underestimated.
This defection came two days
after a sizable mobilisation, organised by the radical opposition group,
the National Resistance Command (CNR) and supported by a number of opposition
parties, called for a boycott of the referendum. CNR leader Hermann
Escarra proclaimed: "This is not
about whether or not to vote, it is about impeding [the reforms]."
The speakers, applauding
right-wing students who had led small but violent protests against the
reforms, called for a march "without return" for November
Speculation spread rapidly
about the meaning of Baduel's statements. Within hours, two former defence
ministers, general Jorge Garcia Carneiro and admiral Orlando Manigilia,
spoke against him.
Carneiro accused Baduel of
having held "dubious" positions for a while, and argued his
comments would not have any impact in the military. Manigilia reminded
the military that they have the right to exercise their democratic vote,
but not to involve themselves in party politics.
Vice-President Jorge Rodriguez
argued that Baduel's speech would have little effect, "not even
a breeze". "Baduel has said the same thing that the opposition
has been saying … he is not saying anything new." Rodriquez
welcomed, however, Baduel's call to participate in the referendum.
Chavez declared Baduel a
"traitor" and said he had become "a pawn in this game
[of the opposition]. We will be on alert because it is part of a plan
that without doubt aims to fill the streets of Venezuela with violence".
He added that Baduel's shift
to the opposition in the context of the deepening struggle for socialism
was good because it clarified his position. "It is not strange
that when a submarine goes deeper the pressure is increased and can
free a loose screw. The weak points are going to leave, and I believe
it is good that they leave", Chavez said.
Chavez added "I'm completely
sure there is no current within the armed forces that has the necessary
strength to carry out a successful coup d'etat or to lead the country
to a civil war". However he explained that there would be a meeting
of the military high command because
"there is nothing innocent about this".
Miranda Governor Diosdado
Cabello also criticised Baduel, saying that his arguments were the same
as the opposition's, and that "I believe he must have met with
them". Cabello added that he never swallowed the story that Baduel
was a hero during the 2002 coup.
A different take was provided
by Chavista National Assembly deputy Luis Tascon, who said that it would
be "stupid" to say that this was simply about the betrayal
of one person, and would not affect Chavismo. Tascon argued that Baduel's
treachery represented "a division within Chavismo", adding
that Baduel had been widely respected among Chavistas.
Rather than simply attacking
Baduel, Tascon argued it was necessary to politically debate the issues
at stake and that there could be further rumblings within Chavismo.
He also pointed to the influence of powerful groups and business interests
behind Baduel's moves.
Immediately after Baduel's
press conference, six opposition parties, some of whom were previously
calling for a boycott, called for "massive" participation
in the referendum and registered at the National Electoral Council to
officially become part of the "No" campaign. They were later
joined by another eight, including Podemos — a social-democratic
party that until this year had been part of the Chavista camp, but have
moved rapidly towards the opposition as more radical, socialist-oriented
measures have been introduced.
The opposition press were
quick to point to the potential emergence of a new opposition leader
in Baduel, changing their editorial lines from supporting a boycott
to backing a "No" vote.
As speculation whirls around
the possible ramifications of Baduel's declarations inside the military,
most analysts, pro- and anti-Chavista, agree that it is unlikely that
this could lead in the immediate future to a military coup.
At his press conference,
Baduel, who was dressed in civilian clothing as opposed to his military
uniform, made clear he did not speak for the military and repeatedly
emphasised the need to vote "No", which seems to indicate
that his statements were more aimed at giving confidence to those individuals
in the military who are opposed to reforms, and not necessarily a direct
incitement to rebellion. It has been widely reported that Baduel sought
out other military figures to speak out at the same time, although no
one was willing to accept. Given that strong opponents of the revolution
are a small minority in the military, a premature move would lead to
a quick defeat and a further purge of counter-revolutionaries.
The Venezuelan military has
been undergoing a significant transformation since the uprising of much
of the armed forces along with the poor majority that defeated the 2002
coup against Chavez. This lead to the clearing out of large sections
of those who had been involved in the coup, with control of the military
passing over from the capitalist elite to the Bolivarian forces. This
was further deepened during the bosses lockout in December 2002-February
2003, when the armed forces, alongside the people and particularly the
oil workers, worked to regain control of the oil industry and break
the sabotage of the capitalist class.
However, the process is ongoing
and not irreversible. As the revolution deepens, the possibility of
increased internal fractures grows. Comprised of men and women who live
in a society, there is no doubt that the full spectrum of politics in
Venezuela is also reflected within the military. No-one doubts that
US imperialism and the opposition retain some influence within the military,
and they hope to deepen divisions among those that have until now backed
Chavez. One issue in relation to this is the resistance within the military
to moves away from the concept of a "professionalised" armed
forces — reflected in some of the amendments subsequently made
to Chavez's initial proposals to reform articles of the constitution
relating to the military.
Given Baduel's statement
that he would not rule out a future political career, and the timing
of this declaration to coincide with the beginning of the official referendum
campaign, it seems to indicate an intention to position himself as the
new leader of the opposition. His statement's timing, after three months
of public silence, lends credence to the idea that this is part of a
bigger plan around which he has been conspiring with others.
Presenting Baduel as separate
from the thoroughly discredited old opposition forces, the aim is to
win over a section of Chavismo that, while supporting Chavez, is not
convinced, or is opposed to, the reforms and would prefer to abstain
rather than support the opposition. However, Baduel's mimicking of opposition
catch-phrases, such as "constitutional coup", have undermined
Although the full impact
of this fracturing of Chavismo is yet to be seen, it no doubt will have
a greater impact than previous splits, including by Podemos. Baduel
was widely seen as a real hero of the revolution, and many in the civilian
left had worked closely with him in strengthening organisational bonds
with sections of the military around the time of the coup. He continues
to proclaim his adherence to "Bolivarianism" (while rejecting
its radical aspects), giving him more potential than the existing opposition
to draw behind him sectors of
Chavez revealed that in the
lead-up to the presidential elections last year, some Chavistas were
campaigning to make Baduel vice-president. This year, Baduel began to
express publicly some disagreements with aspects of the Bolivarian revolution,
raising doubts over what kind of socialism was being built and defending
the need for a "professional" standing army in counter-position
to the proposed reform re-organising the reserves into a popular militias.
Chavez pointed out that behind all this are business interests and groups
of power, fearful of losing their privileges, and that it reflects the
ideological weakness of the revolution.
These points tend to point
to the idea that Baduel's defection, carried out both in collaboration
with the opposition and some of the right-wing Chavista elements whose
position is referred to as "Chavismo without Chavez" hopes
to take advantage of confusion amongst Chavista ranks and conservative
sections of the military. The aim is to crate a counterweight to the
radical course that Chavez, and the majority of working people, seem
determined to take. Part of the plan is to attempt to slow the revolutionary
process by arguing for negotiations with "moderate" opposition
Baduel's defection provides
further evidence of a new campaign of destabilisation that is being
unleashed by the opposition — with the backing of the US —
which has so far failed in a number of attempts at overthrowing the
Chavez government and rolling back the gains of the revolution.
The violent campaign by small
groups of fascist students — with the burning of buildings and
vehicles, including that belonging to the environment minister —
continued the day after Baduel's press conference. The campaign has
included a number of shootings on university campuses. The national
and international media have attempted to portray the students as victims
of a "dictatorship", either implying or outright lying that
the shootings were carried out by Chavista forces.
One example was a highly
publicised shooting in the University of Zulia on November 2 that was
initially blamed on Chavista students. Once it was revealed that the
death had been a result of a shoot out between two rival opposition
parties, the overwhelmingly anti-Chavez private media quickly dropped
the story without clarifying the truth. (This should at least put to
rest the lie these days Chavez controls the media.)
Combined with the growing
presence of paramilitaries on the border region with Colombia, this
is further evidence that the opposition has unleashed a new destabilisation
plan with the backing of US imperialism — with Baduel a key component.
They hope to substitute for their lack of any mass support base with
a climate of tension and fear — amplified by the national and
international media who are central to this plan.
If they cannot stop the reforms
from going ahead, they hope that they can encourage or intimidate enough
people to either boycott or vote "No" in order to present
the reforms as illegitimate, adding weight to argument of conservative
sectors of Chavismo to slow down the process.
It is in this context that
Chavez has described the referendum as the revolution's "most important
battle", because "it is much more defining" of the fundamental
nature of the process than previous struggles.
Speaking at the November
4 rally, Chavez explained that the 1999 constitution had left in place
some obstacles to the "development of the Bolivarian project and
the construction of socialism". The reforms represent a break with
the "false principal that politics is the art of the possible …
No, politics is the art of making possible tomorrow what today seems
impossible, this is truly revolutionary politics …."
"By signalling socialism
as the goal … [the reform campaign] began to generate additional
tensions in the process", Chavez explained. He said that while
some argue that it is necessary to reach this objective via slow moves,
"many times these end up being slower every day until it reaches
"That is why the proposal
is a proposal of rupture … We will never get to socialism with
the bureaucratic trickle down from above … The reform overturns
this concept; we will only reach socialism by unleashing the power of
the people … That is the essence of the proposal."
That is why, Chavez declared,
that "our campaign strategy, our principal objective is to approve
the constitutional reform in a resounding manner". He added that
popular mobilisation was "the vaccine against a coup, against destabilisation,
against the oligarchy, against Bush. This is what happened" when
the 2002 coup was defeated, it was "the people in the streets,
popular mobilisation, and of course, our soldiers together with the
He added that the "fundamental
motor" of the campaign would be the socialist battalions, the base
units of new United Socialist Party of Venezuela, whose explicit aim
is to organise the revolutionary vanguard into a united fighting organisation
to deepen the process.
It is clear that the battle
over the next three weeks — and then immediately afterwards —
will be crucial for the future of the revolutionary process. Not just
for what a defeat would mean for Chavez and the opposition respectively,
but for the process of change as a whole.
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