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Thread: Pro-Chavez landslide expected

  1. #1
    Partridge Guest

    Pro-Chavez landslide expected

    Venezuelans vote for new congress

    Parliamentary elections are taking place in Venezuela, with polls suggesting supporters of President Hugo Chavez will extend their majority.
    All five main opposition parties are boycotting the poll, accusing the electoral authorities of bias. Mr Chavez has condemned the boycott as a Washington-backed plot to destabilise his regime - a charge the US rejected. His allies need a strong win in order to change the law limiting the number of times a president can serve.

    'No crisis'

    The left-wing Mr Chavez's allies currently hold 89 of the single chamber National Assembly's 167 seats and are aiming to extend their majority. About 14.5 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote, although correspondents are predicting a low turnout. The National Electoral Council said 556 out of 5,500 candidates have pulled out of the congressional vote.

    Opposition leaders accused the electoral body of favouring pro-government candidates. Mr Chavez denounced the boycott calling it an attempt to destabilise his government and urged Venezuelans to turn out in force.

    "Those non-participating minorities ... are trying to lay the groundwork for destabilisation, and aggression against Venezuela," said Mr Chavez. He insisted that "there is no political crisis here, as they want to make it seem".

    The government has deployed thousands of soldiers nationwide to maintain order during the vote. Three small explosive devices were detonated at a government office and an army base in Caracas, on Friday.

    No-one has claimed responsibility for the incidents, but the government described it as an attempt to "disturb" the voting process. The poll with be monitored by observers from the EU and the Organisation of American States.

  2. #2
    Partridge Guest
    Chavez defends vote and blasts US meddling

    Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez defended Sunday's congressional vote, which most opposition parties have pulled out of, saying the boycott was a U.S.-backed plot against him.

    Venezuelans vote for 167 parliament seats on Sunday with analysts expecting lawmakers loyal to Chavez to dominate the new body. Most of the main opposition parties pulled out last week, accusing the electoral authorities of bias.

    Chavez, a former soldier at odds with Washington, used a late-night address to dismiss the opposition boycott while accusing U.S. officials of trying to overthrow him by copying Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide's 2004 ouster.

    "These minor parties are trying to put on a show. ... They are just pawns of the imperialists," Chavez said in a national broadcast. "There is no political crisis in Venezuela."

    Authorities have played down the boycott's impact and said it was limited to 11 percent of candidates who pulled out because they had no support. But critics say low voter turnout and Chavez's full control over Congress could damage the new legislature's legitimacy.

    Pro-Chavez lawmakers will likely sweep to a huge majority in the chamber. Polls show they were set to win a strong majority even before the boycott.

    Lawmakers backing Chavez have said they want to use their clout to press constitutional reforms such as lifting limits on presidential re-elections. Critics fear this will hand Chavez more power as the country heads toward a presidential vote in December 2006.

    Chavez has already pushed through a constitutional reform that extended his power. In December 1999, Venezuelans voted to approve a constitution that lengthened the presidential term from five to six years and allowed standing presidents to run for one re-election.

    A former paratroop commander first elected in 1998, Chavez has built his popularity partially by spending billions in oil revenues on health and education as part of his socialist revolution in the world's No. 5 oil exporter. His close ties to Cuba have rattled Washington.

    U.S. officials, who portray Chavez as a threat to democracy in Venezuela and the region, have rejected his anti-U.S. rhetoric as an attempt to stir nationalist sentiment and mobilize his power base among the poor.

    Opposition parties, struggling to unite and compete with Chavez, backed out of the vote this week after accusing the country's National Electoral Council of favoring him and tampering with an automatic-ballot system.

    "Elections without any opposition and with low turnout aren't good for anyone, not least the government, which should evaluate the anti-democratic impact," wrote TalCual newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff.

    Since Chavez won a referendum last year, his opponents have struggled to overcome divisions and distrust of the electoral council, which they charge manipulated voting machines to help Chavez defeat a 2004 recall vote.

    Observers from the Organization of American States monitoring Sunday's vote said they found no evidence of ballot tampering in the referendum. Since then, the electoral council has yielded to several opposition demands, including allowing an audit on 47 percent of the ballots.

    Caracas was calm before the weekend vote. But state news agency reported three people were injured on Friday when a home-made pipe bomb went off at a government office and two fragmentation grenades exploded at a Caracas army base. There were no injuries.

  3. #3
    Partridge Guest
    Chavez set for victory
    Al Jazeera

    Venezuelans have voted in a congressional election, with candidates allied to Hugo Chavez, the president, expected to sweep most seats after the main opposition boycotted the poll.

    Hours before voting began, an oil pipeline in the west of the country was damaged in a blast that the government said was terrorism.

    Jose Vicente Rangel, the vice-president, said on state television: "This is a miserable terrorist attack."

    Rafael Ramirez, the energy minister, said the blast at a pipeline supplying the country's huge Amuay-Cardon refinery had not affected fuel supplies and that the fire was under control.

    Chavez, a former army officer allied with Cuba, has accused Washington for orchestrating the opposition walkout to try to destabilise his. But he said the boycott included only a minority of candidates who will not invalidate the vote.

    Main opposition groups said they would abstain from voting after accusing electoral authorities of favouring the populist, left-wing leader and manipulating electronic voting machines. They had previously agreed to participate in the election.

    Polls indicated a convincing lead for deputies backing President Chavez even before the boycott was announced.

    Pedro Zamora, a pensioner who was voting in eastern Chacao district, said: "The opposition are just a bunch of thieves who tried to sabotage the election. We can see the government are going to get most of the votes."

  4. #4
    Partridge Guest
    Rupture in oil pipeline: Firefighters quickly brought the blaze under control

    Russian PRAVDA: A rupture in an oil pipeline caused a fire in western Venezuela on Saturday night, but firefighters quickly brought the blaze under control, the country's oil minister said. There were no injuries.

    Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told state television the fire would not affect fuel supplies. He said authorities were investigating the cause as they evaluated damage to begin making repairs.

    "Residents in the area heard two large explosions," regional fire chief Henry Uzcategui said, explaining they were at a distance because the fire broke out in a forested area.

    Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about two hours, Uzcategui said.

    The pipe was about 60 centimeters (2 feet) in diameter, he said. The pipeline is made up of two pipes, one of which was undamaged, and carries crude from Ule in the western state of Zulia to the Amuay refinery, Uzcategui said.

    * The two pipes together can carry up to 150,000 barrels of crude a day, according to the state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.

    Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and a major supplier of fuel to the United States, reported AP.

  5. #5
    Partridge Guest
    Chavez allies claim victory in thin Venezuela vote

    Lawmakers loyal to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Monday they had won a a sweeping victory in a National Assembly election as the government defended the poll's legitimacy despite an opposition boycott and low voter turnout.

    Chavez allies said the win would boost their power to amend the constitution -- like scrapping limits on presidents running for more than two terms -- and introduce reforms that opponents fear will increase the left-winger's power in the world's No. 5 oil exporting nation.

    Electoral authorities were expected to present the final tally later on Monday, but Chavez's supporters said it had secured 114 out of 167 seats in the new legislature.

    Only one-fourth of eligible voters took part in the vote, the National Electoral Council said.

    That low turnout could play into the hands of Washington and the opposition, who say Chavez is pushing Venezuela to Cuban-style communism by trampling on democratic rights.

    Main opposition parties had boycotted the vote, reneging on an earlier promise to participate after reaching a deal with international election monitors that had appeared to quell fears of voting machines being manipulated.

    "Venezuela yesterday buried the National Electoral Council and the electoral system," opposition-leaning TalCual newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff wrote. "We will now insist... on the need to rebuild completely the electoral system."

    "The government has a problem it cannot ignore -- a single-colored parliament elected amid a gigantic abstention," Petkoff said, calling for a dialogue with the opposition.

    But supporters of the democratically-elected Chavez -- who enjoys popularity ratings of around 70 percent -- were jubilant.

    "The election has given us the opportunity to... convert the National Assembly in a social power, in a power for the people," said National Assembly chief and Chavez' ally Nicolas Maduro. He said he expected lawmakers to present key constitutional proposals in 2007.

    Chavez's critics say the former soldier has grown increasingly authoritarian by exercising political control over the courts and electoral council. But supporters praise him for ending years of neglect by traditional parties whose influence waned during the Chavez administration.

    The Venezuelan leader, who was first elected in 1998, has benefited from high world prices and has spent billions in windfall oil revenues on projects for the poor as part of his self-styled socialist revolution.


    Chavez's opponents may now use the low turnout, which compares to 56 percent in the 2000 parliamentary election, to attack the parliament's legitimacy. But they must compete with Chavez's high popularity ratings as Venezuela prepares for presidential elections in December 2006.

    "We are going to work to annul this election," COPEI opposition party chief Cesar Perez told reporters, saying his party would seek a Supreme Court action against the poll.

    Analysts said the government would be disappointed with the low turnout and would continue to blame the opposition's boycott that Chavez said had been orchestrated by Washington.

    The government has also blamed Saturday night's explosion at a major oil pipeline on sabotage by "radical groups" and Interior Minister Jesse Chacon suggested that "those who withdraw from the election" were behind it.

    Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez told reporters the new Congress was "as legitimate as anywhere in the world."

    "The governability of a country does not depend so much on the size of the opposition but on the people's support," he said. He expected turnout to be much higher in next year's presidential elections.

  6. #6
    Partridge Guest
    Venezuelan vote boycott: Washington paves road to intervention
    World Socialist Website

    With predictable brazenness, the US State Department on Monday questioned, on grounds of a low turnout, the legitimacy of Sunday’s legislative elections in Venezuela. But, as the US government is well aware, the low vote total was caused in large part by a boycott and sabotage campaign mounted by right-wing opposition parties that Washington supports, both politically and financially.

    State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, noting that “the abstention rate was very high,” declared, “given that rate of abstention, plus expressions of concern by prominent Venezuelans, we would see that this reflects a broad lack of confidence in the impartiality and transparency of the electoral process.”

    The election resulted in a clean sweep by parties supporting the government of President Hugo Chávez. These parties are expected to control all 167 seats in the National Assembly. Turnout was lower than anticipated, with approximately three quarters of potential voters staying away from the polls.

    Facing inevitable defeat, the opposition, led by the two parties that had ruled on behalf of the Venezuelan oligarchy for four decades, opted not to participate. Polls had indicated that Chávez’s Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) and allied parties would easily gain a two-thirds majority in the legislature, relegating the opposition to near irrelevancy.

    The two-thirds margin would provide the government’s supporters with the power to amend the constitution, including the repeal of a statute that would deny Chávez the ability to run for a third term.

    The boycott was spearheaded by the group Súmate, which is funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and whose leader, Mar^a Corina Machado, was welcomed by Bush in the Oval Office six months ago. There can be no doubt that this political maneuver was organized in close collaboration with US officials with the aim of providing Washington and the US-backed opposition a pretext for denouncing the Chávez government as a dictatorship and preparing new provocations against Venezuela.

    Over the past year, Súmate and the opposition parties, with strong backing from Venezuela’s right-wing privately owned mass media, have waged a non-stop propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting the country’s electoral system. First they claimed that the August 2004 referendum on Chávez’s presidency, in which the opposition was soundly defeated, had somehow been rigged, a spurious charge rejected by international observers.

    Then, they raised baseless objections to technical arrangements for the December 4 vote, first opposing the use of voting machines and then demanding that the country’s Electoral Council scrap plans to use fingerprint scanners to guard against voters casting more than a single ballot. The opposition falsely claimed that the technology could be used by the government to determine for whom each voter cast his ballot.

    The machines used in Venezuela were judged by international observers to be far more reliable than most of those used in the US 2004 elections.

    Despite repeated concessions by the Electoral Council, including the scrapping of the use of the fingerprint scanners and an agreement to do a manual count of 45 percent of the paper ballots generated by the machines, the opposition at the last minute bolted the process. This came after the opposition’s repeated assurances to the Organization of American States (OAS) that it would participate on the basis of the changes agreed to by the Electoral Council. Some 400 independent observers from the OAS and the European Union were allowed to monitor the voting.

    There is no doubt that this propaganda campaign, combined with the boycott, contributed to the low turnout in Sunday’s voting.

    Another factor, however, was the threat of violence. On the eve of the election, there was a major bombing of a key oil pipeline as well as a series of smaller explosions in the capital of Caracas. The sabotage attack destroyed part of the Ulé-Amuay pipeline, which brings oil from the Lake Maracaibo area to Paraguana, site of the world’s largest oil refinery.

    The president of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, said that authorities had foiled four other attempted attacks. Groups “trying to create a climate of violence in our country were involved in this,” he said, adding, “The same people behind the oil sabotage three years ago...are trying to create fear in our country.”

    Military officials reported uncovering a cache of 24 pounds of C4 explosives Friday in the northeastern state of Zulia along with weapons and grenades. C4 was reportedly used in the pipeline attack.

    Súmate director Mar^a Corina Machado set forth the line of the opposition on the elections, declaring, “From a multiple-party parliament we pass to a mono-party parliament that does not represent the broad sections of the population. Today a National Parliament is born that is wounded in its legitimacy.”

    The leader of the COPEI Christian Democratic party, meanwhile, said that his party would seek to have the election annulled by the Supreme Court. “I know that no court in this country will agree with us, but we’ll go through all the national judicial channels before going to the international courts.”

    Chavista leaders dismissed these charges, pointing out that only 10 percent of the more than 5,000 candidates running in the elections had dropped out, and that a number of different parties and social organizations were represented in the new National Assembly, just not the old discredited parties of the oligarchy, which one official referred to as “unburied cadavers.”

    Interior Minister Jesse Chacón told a press conference that the new assembly was just as legitimate as any that preceded it. In 1998, he pointed out, Acción Democrática won control of the body with the support of just 11.24 percent of registered voters, less than half the percentage (of a considerably larger electorate) that the MVR-led coalition won in the latest vote.

    Vice President José Vicente Rangel added, “There are countries like the US in which only 25 percent participate in the elections to Congress,” while no one in Washington questions the elections’ legitimacy.

    The decision not to run for a legislature that will be in office for the next five years appears, on the surface, to be an act of political suicide by the opposition—principally the discredited parties of the corrupt system in place in the half-century leading up to 1998, Acción Democrática and COPEI, as well as the newly founded Justice First, which portrayed itself as a party of free market technocrats.

    In reality, it is only the latest gambit in a series of desperate political maneuvers aimed at overturning Chávez by extra-constitutional means. These have included the abortive US-backed coup in April 2002, which was defeated by a popular uprising, the 2002-2003 oil bosses’ strike, and the 2004 referendum.

    By purposely ceding any representation in the National Assembly, the opposition is taking a self-declared path of “extra-parliamentary” opposition, whose methods and program it has yet to spell out. It is clear, however, that the strategy this layer is pursuing is aimed at provoking a US intervention to restore them to power.

    Venezuela’s foreign minister, Ali Rodriguez-Araque, charged at a news conference Monday that the opposition had plotted directly with the Bush administration to sabotage the parliamentary elections. He went on to say, “We have evidence that there are concrete plans by the imperialist US to launch an attack against Venezuela.”

    Indeed, there is ample evidence that this is the case. The Pentagon’s 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and its military plans for the fiscal years 2008-2013 include documents singling out five “threat” countries for “full-spectrum” preparations for military attack, the Washington Post reported last month. After North Korea and Iran, included on the grounds of alleged weapons of mass destruction, and China, seen as a potential strategic competitor, Venezuela is listed together with Syria as a “rogue nation.”

    American troops are already reportedly carrying out military operations against Syria, and the US has made no secret of its desire to extend “regime change” in Iraq across the border by toppling the government of Bashar Assad. Preparations for similar actions against Venezuela are undoubtedly well advanced.

    Washington’s interests in mounting such an intervention are clear. Regime change in Venezuela would have the same essential purpose as in Iraq: establishing direct US control over strategic oil reserves.

    Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, accounts for 11.8 percent of US imports—providing the US economy with 1.5 million barrels a day. The country is the world’s fifth largest oil producer.

    The escalating tensions between Venezuela and Washington are firmly rooted in the Chávez government’s decision to strengthen state control of this strategic sector, rather than embark on a program of privatization and opening up the country’s oil reserves to foreign investment, as prescribed by the US.

    Moreover, Chávez has pursued a nationalist policy in direct conflict with US hegemony in the region. He has established close relations with Cuba, a country that US foreign policy has sought to maintain as an international pariah, and has pursued economic relations with US rivals in Europe as well as with China.

    In October, the Venezuelan government confirmed that it had withdrawn its foreign currency holdings—some $20 billion worth—from US treasury bonds and invested them in euros with the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements. Chávez said that the move was taken out of concern that the US could freeze Venezuelan assets as part of Washington’s escalating aggression.

    Finally, the Chávez government’s program of populism and reformism—proclaimed by the Venezuelan president as “socialism for the 21st century”—is anathema to a US government that insists that all obstacles to the “free market,” i.e., the pursuit of US profit interests, be obliterated.

    The election boycott is a familiar part of Washington’s repertoire of dirty tricks and acts of counterrevolutionary subversion, employed repeatedly in Latin America along with military coups and invasions to overthrow democratically elected governments seen as a threat to US interests.

    In 1984, the US Embassy in Nicaragua engineered an election boycott by its chosen presidential candidate Arturo Cruz, then on the CIA payroll to the tune of $6,000 a month. It sought to bribe and threaten the other opposition parties to join the boycott in a bid to discredit the Sandinista government, which was set to win with overwhelming popular support no matter what other parties participated.

    Despite the findings of election observers that the voting had been free and fair, Washington seized upon the boycott that it had organized to brand the Sandinista government an undemocratic dictatorship and justify the CIA’s “contra” war against Nicaragua.

    Similarly, in Haiti, the US-backed opposition boycotted a 2000 election under conditions in which it was politically discredited and the Lavalas party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was headed for a resounding victory at the polls. Again, despite a clean bill of health from election observers, the opposition continued to claim that the vote was rigged, right up until the moment in 2004 that US Marines invaded the country and ousted Aristide, Haiti’s elected president.

    There can be little doubt that the latest maneuver in Venezuela has been carried out as part of a similar strategy of counterrevolution and military intervention.

  7. #7
    Partridge Guest
    The Venezuelan Election:Chavez Wins, Bush Loses (Again)! Now What?
    By JAMES PETRAS - Counterpunch

    The Venezuelan congressional elections of December 4, 2005 mark a turning point in domestic politics and US-Venezuelan relations. President Chavez's party, the Movement of the Fifth Republic, won approximately 68 per cent of the congressional seats and with other pro-government parties , elected all the representatives.

    The turnout for the congressional elections without a presidential campaign was 25 per cent. The pro-Chavez percentage exceeds the pluralities secured in previous congressional elections in 1998 (11.24 per cent) and 2000 (17 per cent). If we compare the voter turnout with the most recent election, which included the opposition (the August 2005 municipal elections), the abstention campaign accounted for only a 6 per cent increase in citizens who chose not to vote (69 per cent to75 per cent). The claim that the low turnout was a result of the US backed opposition's boycott is clearly false.

    The argument that the level of turnout calls into question the legitimacy of the elections would, if applied to any US "off-year" election, de-legitimize many congressional, municipal and gubernatorial elections.

    One of the most striking aspects of the election was the highly polarized voter participation: In the elite and upper middle class neighborhoods voter turnout was below 10 per cent, while in the numerous popular neighborhoods the BBC reported lines waiting to cast their ballots.

    With close to a majority of the poor voting and over 90 per cent voting for Chavez' party, and electing an all Chavez legislature, the way is open for new, more progressive legislation, without the obstructionist tactics of a virulent opposition. This should lead to measures accelerating the expropriation of latifundios (large estates) and of bankrupt and closed factories as well as new large-scale social and infrastructure investments. It is also possible a new constitutional amendment will allow for a third term for President Chavez.

    The Bush Administration (with Democratic Congressional backing) has engaged in desperado 'casino' politics, namely an 'all or nothing' approach, instead of a gradualist incremental opposition. Washington pushed its client trade union confederation (CTV) ,with financial support and "advice" from the AFL-CIO, into a general strike in 2001. This failed and eventually led to the formation of a new confederation reducing the CTV to an impotent .

    In April 2002 the US backed a military coup, which was defeated in 47 hours by a mass popular uprising backed by constitutionalist military officers, resulting in the dismissal of hundreds of pro-US military officials. From December 2002 to February 2003, US-backed officials and their entourage in the state petroleum company, PDVS, organized a lockout, temporarily paralyzing the economy.

    Loyalist workers and engineers backed by the government broke the lockout and all the senior officials and employees engaged in the lockout were fired, setting in motion a major shift in petroleum revenue allocation from the upper class to the poor. Likewise the US poured millions via the NED into a non-governmental organ ization, SUMATE, to fund a referendum to recall Chavez in 2004. The referendum was defeated by a 16-point margin (58 per cent to 42 per cent) leading to demoralization, apathy and depoliticizing of the voter constituency of the right.

    In the recent congressional campaign, polls indicated another massive electoral defeat, Washington pressured its NGO and political clients to withdraw from the ballot and call for an abstention, with the above-mentioned result -- total loss of any institutional sphere of influence, further isolation of its political constituency and the inevitable turn of the business class toward direct negotiations with the Chavez congress-people instead of via the opposition.

    In each confrontation, Washington burned a strategic client group in its bid to grab state power in the shortest time. Washington rejected a gradualist insider political strategy of accumulating forces over time, modifying legislation through negotiations, exploring real or imagined grievances and tempering the demagogic rhetoric embedded in its foreign policy.

    The basic question is: why did Washington persist in its go-for-broke policies despite a sequence of defeats?

    Between 2001-2002, the ideologues of multiple wars, under the guise of anti-terrorism and the slogan "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" (Bush, September 23, 2001), were determined to make short shrift of the Chavez regime. The reason was that President Chavez was one of the very few non-communist regimes to oppose the US war against Afghanistan and condemn US terror (Chavez stated "You can't fight terror with terror.").

    Given that mad-dog fanatics controlled power in Washington as early as October 2001, a US State Department official (Grossman) threatened Chavez that "He and future generations (of Venezuelans) would pay" for opposing US aggression. Along with US Ambassador Charles Shapiro, the neo-conservatives, especially the Cuban-Americans in the State Department who designed Latin American policies, overestimated their influence in the Venezuelan military and exaggerated the power of the mass media and the business elite in shaping the outcome of a military coup. The precipitate action was due to the upcoming invasion of Iraq and the obsessive need to silence foreign governmental opposition -- given the mass opposition in the US and Europe to a war against Iraq.

    The second factor which influenced Washington's pursuit of go-for-broke politics, at the time of the lockout, was the pending oil crisis with the invasion of Iraq and Chavez' ties with Iraq and Iran via its leadership of OPEC.

    Having pulled its "military levers" without success, Washington played its oil card to weaken or break OPEC and thus deter any price increases and also to guarantee an increased flow of oil from Venezuela. One of the immediate measures imposed by the 47-hour coup-makers had been to withdraw Venezuela from OPEC. The oil lockout executives would likely have followed suit if they had been able to overthrow the Chavez government.

    Washington's policy of immediate confrontation also followed from Chavez' growing relations with Cuba. The virulent anti-Cuba lobby and its State Department representatives, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, were intent on destroying Cuba's strategic ally in Venezuela, no matter what the risk to US clients in Venezuela, just as the pro-Israel zealots in the Pentagon pushed the war with Iraq and are prepared to offer US support for an Israeli attack on Iran -- no matter what the cost to US backed Arab clients in the Middle East.

    The third factor that shaped Bush's policy was Chavez' opposition to the Latin American Free Trade Area of the Americas and the growing support in Latin America for his proposed Bolivarian Latin American integration alliance (ALBA).

    The Washington ultras viewed Latin America as infected by a series of "left of center" regimes "bought" or influenced by Venezuelan oil offers and petroleum financing, undermining US hegemony. In reality none of the regimes in question (Lula in Brazil, Kitchner in Argentina, Vazquez in Uruguay, etc) was in any way pursuing Chavez domestic welfare policies or his critical position on US imperialism.

    Given the US failures to consolidate rule in Iraq or Afghanistan, and US defeats in the UN and OAS in isolating Cuba, the ultras were desperate for a political victory. So they pursued their strategy of confrontatiohn with Venezuela, each time with less institutional and political support, in a losing game to compensate for previous defeats. The weaker their client forces, the shriller the rhetoric, the less resonance in Venezuela, Latin America and even in the US Congress -- thanks to Chavez' policy of offering subsidized oil to low-income consumers in the US.

    What will the old parties, which boycotted the elections, do now that they excluded themselves from Congress? The two major parties, the Democratic Action (AD) and Social Christians (COPEI), relied heavily on party patronage, government jobs to secure activists and voters. Without it the party apparatus possibly could survive on handouts from the phony US NGOs (The Democratic and Republican Institutes) but without jobs and perks the loyalists will look elsewhere and perhaps hook onto some of the more conservative pro-Chavez political groups or retire from politics or form a new party.

    Chavez was absolutely right when he said these elections spelled the burial of the traditional parties as viable contenders for electoral power. Some but not most of the political supporters of the traditional parties are not prepared nor have the stomach for bomb throwing and street fighting. However some of the other groups like the pseudo-populist Justice First Party and the extremists around the Bush-backed NED-financed NGO, SUMATE, may engage in some sort of street violence.

  8. #8
    Partridge Guest
    There is no doubt that the Venezuelan right is incapable of replicating the CIA-Soros "color revolutions" in the Caucasus for several reasons. First the Chavez regime has a mass active and engaged popular base, which dominates the street action. Secondly there is no issue around which the right can mobilize and unify a popular movement. The vast welfare programs are popular, the economy is growing, living standards are rising, corruption is not out of control and there is complete freedom of assembly, press and speech.

    The conservative business associations increasingly are prospering from government contracts and depend on contacts with the victorious party in power to consummate deals They are not likely to make a risky bet with defeated NGOs and parties with a history of failed adventurous politics when it would be easier to make money now, notwithstanding their hyperventilating against "the negro" at their private cocktail parties.

    That leaves the opposition two options. The pragmatists, especially among the business elite, will probably look to opening a dialogue via the conservative Archbishop of Caracas with the more moderate wing of the Chavez government (the economic and finance ministries) and Congress to gain influence and limit changes from "within".

    The second option is a turn to violent extra-parliamentary action and recruitment of some military or intelligence officials of ambiguous loyalties. We can expect a few bombings as took place on Election Day -- blowing up of an oil pipeline and a stick of dynamite being tossed next to a Caracas military base. Neither of these had major repercussions. An upgrading of community vigilance committees and counter-terrorist operations should be able to handle these extremists, despite their obvious CIA backing.

    Clearly Washington's strategy has led to the decommissioning of the most significant levers of power, which Washington possessed in Venezuelan society. What remain are the private mass media, which can still mount a formidable anti-government, pro-US propaganda campaign. The US can be counted on to strengthen and perhaps radicalize its message, in hopes of provoking a crackdown, under the bizarre belief that the "worse the better". Already Thomas Shannon, the US Undersecretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, responded to the sweeping Chavez electoral victory by calling it "a step toward totalitarianism", a judgment rejected by every country in North and South America, the United Nations and an army of European Union electoral observers.

    US propagandists have failed to recognize the fact that extremism has led to virtual total isolation, even among the US's most loyal clients in the region. Washington may try to pressure Colombia and its President Uribe to create border conflicts, but that is not going to work either. Venezuelan-Colombian trade is growing rapidly and amounts to $3 billion dollars, greater than Colombia's trade with the US. Moreover, Venezuela is Colombia's most important market for manufactured goods (accounting for 25 per cent of the total). With a major billion dollar Venezuelan gas and petrol pipeline passing through Colombia, there is hardly a rancher, industrialist or banker supporting a US-backed Colombian foray into Venezuela.

    Washington has two other levers -- the NGOs and the clandestine terrorists who can attempt to sow chaos and destruction in order to provoke a coup or, at least, street demonstrations. There are two problems which undermine the effectiveness of the NGOs like SUMATE. Their dependence on US financing and lack of an independent standing has deflated their legitimacy among the lower middle class, shopkeepers, professionals and conservative sectors of public employees. Moreover, their numerous failed campaigns and the loss of institutional power has demoralized those who used to turn out for demonstrations. That leaves Washington with the clandestine armed terrorists, who have some support among a reduced sector of the elite in the form of safe houses, access to weapons and money. Without totally disregarding their capacity to set off bombs, terrorism is likely to boomerang -- strengthen popular demands for greater security measures -- a "mano duro".

    That leaves us with a possible direct US intervention. While the ultras in Washington are theoretically capable of such a move, practically they lack regional allies, their internal political assets are at their weakest point and the internal political weakness of the Bush Administration and the increasingly anti-war US public (and even some sectors of Congress) preclude a new invasion, involving a prolonged war against a government backed by millions of its citizens, with and without arms.

    However given the combined AON outlook and the extremism in Washington nothing can be absolutely excluded.

    With the demise of the traditional parties, political pluralism, debate and political competition will be expressed elsewhere. There are numerous political parties and tendencies who are "pro-Chavez" including a dozen parties, which can be classified as social democratic, social liberal, nationalist and a variety of Marxist groups. Likewise in the agrarian and industrial sectors and within the social movements and trade unions, there are divisions and competition between reformers, centrists and revolutionaries. Within Congress and the ministries these tendencies argue, debate, propose and modify policies. And Chavez himself has a 'reformist' pragmatic and revolutionary side to his discourse and practice. In other words, pluralistic democracy is alive and well. The big questions between market and state, private and public ownership, landowners and peasants, self-managed factories and private monopolies, and foreign and domestic capital will be taken up and resolved within the multi-tendency Chavista umbrella.

    The moderate or conservative wing of Chavismo is concerned about legitimacy despite the clean and certified elections. They are likely to seek and reach out to the less extreme personalities, church notables and business leaders in order to encourage a new "reasonable" political opposition, in order to countermand the US screeds amplified by the local media about creeping totalitarianism. The pragmatists will look toward maintaining fiscal discipline, limiting social spending and promoting joint public-private "partnerships".

    The centrist groups and parties will seek to consolidate political power within the institutions and their electorate by promoting piecemeal reforms, increasing social spending and distributing big infrastructure contracts to the progressive bourgeoisie.

    The left groups, organized mainly in the new class-oriented trade unions, neighborhood and community based cooperatives, peasant social movements and, especially, in the worker self-managed enterprises and movements, are pushing for a deepening of the socialization process and greater investment in local productive enterprises to reduce the 50 per cent of the labor force which remains unemployed or underemployed. At the same time they attack the top-down selection of electoral candidates. Conflicts are likely to emerge between the mass activists in the neighborhoods and trade unions and certain opportunist and corrupt municipal and provincial officials, especially in the allocation of funds and the style of leadership.

    Chavez stands with the left and the mass movements but he does not discount the pragmatists who decide macro-economic policy nor the centrists who are attempting to institutionalize political power. Yet it is Chavez who synthesizes the different positions, educates the public and provides the charismatic leadership, which unifies and moves the whole movement forward. It is Chavez who denounces US imperialism and meets with Iranian leaders, and it is Chavez who signs economic agreements with Colombia's neo-liberal Uribe and praises Brazil's corruption-tainted, Wall Street cover boy, Lula Da Silva.

    Chavez calls for a wide-ranging debate on his vision of 21st century socialism, sells subsidized oil to poor countries and people (even in the US) and approves of new petrol exploitation contracts with the multinational petroleum giants.

    Washington's support for the self-immolation of the Venezuelan congressional opposition opens the door for greater advances in legislation promoting jobs, public ownership, agrarian reform, progressive labor legislation and the building of bridges toward greater Latin American integration. The loss of US levers of power presents a great opportunity for reformists and revolutionaries to seize the historical moment and demonstrate their capacity not only to defeat the empire but to build an democratic, just and egalitarian socialist society in which the mass of the population is engaged in legislation, not just voting for politicians who may or may not defend their best interests.


    The issue of the legitimacy of the elections is not a serious question. Latin American monitors from the electoral commissions of numerous conservative countries declared the elections and the election outcomes, democratic, transparent and an honest reflection of the will of the voters. The electoral observers from the European Union certified that the elections were transparent.

    Regarding the 25 per cent turnout and the abstention campaign promoted by the US-backed opposition: First most of those who did not vote included many supporters of President Chavez. They did not turn out for several reasons:

    They saw no reason to vote since victory was assumed; a competitive election would have brought many of them out to vote.

    Chavez was not running. The mass popular base is more pro-Chavez than supportive of the Chavista parties or even his own Movement for the Fifth Republic.

    Many grassroots pro-Chavez supporters abstained because they did not like the manner in which their candidates were elected (top-down) or didn't like their policies or style of politics (corruption, nepotism, lack of initiative in pushing reforms.

    Many of the beneficiaries of the welfare reforms are passive because they are more accustomed to receiving aid from above rather than struggling for benefits from below. Welfare distributed in a paternalistic way does not encourage political activity.

    Secondly many of the opposition voters did not bother to vote because of apathy and demoralization over recent electoral failures (referendums, municipal elections) and costly self-destructive campaigns, which led to job and salary losses (lockouts and coups). This group of non-voters included many who, while not sympathetic to the Chavez parties, are benefiting from the economic programs, and are put off by the extremist rhetoric and violence perpetrated by sectors of the opposition. Many if not most non-voters were not supporters of the opposition's abstention campaign. Unquestionably voter turnout will at least double for the Presidential elections when Chavez runs for re-election whether the opposition abstains or runs a candidate or candidates.

    James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at:

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