On Dec. 6 Venezuela held its 20th election in 17 years and one of its most difficult yet. With the opposition upping the ante in terms of media attacks and sabotage and two-and-a-half years of economic difficulties, and since the passing of revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez, not to mention a recent right-wing victory in Argentina, the left and right around the world turned anxious eyes to Venezuela.
Ultimately, the Bolivarian revolution (the “Perfect Alliance” of the governing PSUV and other supportive parties and organizations) lost at the polls with the opposition winning at least 99 seats, with 19 still to be decided. Eighty-seven is necessary for a simple majority. But what does this electoral loss mean, politically, and given the current context in Venezuela, what will the consequences of it be, going forward?
Key Factors Leading to These Election Results
1) As usual, this year the disinformation by the opposition media has been intense. The opposition’s main campaigning was through local and international media and social media, with very little street campaigning.
2) Many of those who do generally vote for the opposition do so because they want to vote against the government (and everything demonic and evil the private media has made it represent: “Castro-communism,” where even droughts are the national government’s fault) or for ambiguous “change” after 16 years of Chavismo, without being particularly concerned or aware of what that change is. Many of these people are of course upper-class people who resent the empowerment of the poor, but their ranks have been swollen by those frustrated by the last two years of serious difficulties.
3) Other key factors bringing people to the opposition include encouragement by the right-wing victory in Argentina, with a Trump-like figure due to swear-in as president on Dec. 10, and younger generations in Venezuela who now don’t remember what it was like in Venezuela before Chavez was elected in 1998 (18-year-old voters would have been 3-years-old at the time).
4) But, while the opposition has attracted some of the less politically aware social sectors to its anti-Chavismo discourse, the government has also lost some ground from conscientious and solid revolutionaries, partly due to its lack of a solid response to the “economic war.” Although it’s easier said than done to combat a rentier state, capitalist system, historical corruption, and opposition and big business economic sabotage, Maduro has only announced things like national commissions to deal with the situation. While people spend up to seven hours a week lining up for food, and while many of them understand that the government isn’t directly responsible for the situation, the lack of a serious response and significant measures hasn’t helped support for the government.
5) Further, while the government clearly sides with the poor, for multiple reasons, including more right-wing attacks, it has becoming increasingly distanced from the organizing grassroots. “The government would have more of a sense of urgency (in solving problems) if it was closer to the people in the street,” Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, community activist and Venezuelanalysis journalist told teleSUR. That distance is relative to other times in the Bolivarian revolution, not to other governments around the world, who don’t come close. However, with the way the government communicates with the people — the way it gets information out and involves people in serious decision making — there has been a step back. This aspect of the Bolivarian Revolution is perhaps the most important, so the significance of it and its impact on people shouldn’t be underestimated.
Key Likely Consequences
The consequences are serious, but do not necessarily mark the end. Despite its financial resources and support from international powers and elites, the opposition has not been strategic or intelligent and won’t be strategic with this new power. Under Chavez and the revolution they lost privileges and a lot of their initial measures will be about getting revenge: probably things like kicking out the Cuban doctors, making fun of the poor classes that have “lost,” continuing to not collect garbage, and enjoying the praise from the international media. They won’t fix the economic problems, that’s not their aim, and after all, they (the business elites and wealthy people with access to dollars) benefit from the crazy exchange rates and huge profits gained from hoarding.
Further, with this, and the right-wing win in Argentina, the talk of the left losing Latin America will strengthen, with the media as usual broadcasting how they wish things were rather than any sort of complex analysis. Nevertheless, two such losses will no doubt cause some regional demotivation among progressives and have a significant impact on Latin American integration bodies.
For PSUV politicians, there will hopefully be some reflection, and the government will now be in the difficult position of having to compromise with the opposition — with Maduro and his ministers still in power, but unable to allocate extra income (beyond the budget for 2016, passed Dec. 1) or modify laws or approve bilateral and multilateral treaties. After the referendum loss in 2007, Chavez moderated his discourse and policies for a while, and Maduro may be forced to do so even more. It’s hard to know if in these circumstances Maduro will turn to the grassroots for more support, or will distrust them even more after loosing some of their support, and if he will see the outcome as a need for reflection, or purely the consequence of opposition sabotage.
For grassroots Chavistas, the majority of whom who have never been involved in the revolution for the sake of financial resources, they will continue organizing, promoting their progressive projects, their community organizations, but under more difficult circumstances. For the first time, they may not feel like the proud, governing majority in the country. On the other hand, an opposition with power is more the reason for strengthening organization. Having lost the luxury of taking victories for granted, the grassroots will likely become even more serious. With an emboldened opposition, they and their projects may also face verbal and physical attacks.
For the wavering voters, in the long term, having the opposition in power could be a bit of a reminder and reality check as they see that things get worse for the majority of people.
That the opposition has won its second out of 20 elections under Chavismo proves that all the U.S, European, opposition, and private media hype about how undemocratic Venezuela’s electoral system is false. Of course, their reaction will be to claim that it was their “international pressure” that kept things in check.
Overall though, this loss, while it is a big step back for the progressive cause, it isn’t the end of the line. The global struggle for a world that puts people and planet first, for a democratically controlled economy and so on, is a long term one with many ups and downs, defeats and victories.
What to Expect from a Counterrevolutionary National Assembly in Venezuela
Venezuela’s socialist PSUV party, which has led an ongoing process of deep social change since 1999, was defeated in Sunday’s National Assembly elections, for the first time in 17 years.
While the final vote count is not yet in from rural areas and from those places where it was too close to call, what is clear is that in winning at least 99 of the 167 seats available, the opposition politicians now command a majority. But what might this look like?
The MUD announced Monday that its first priority—should it win the two-thirds majority—would be seeking to replace President Nicolas Maduro, whose term does not end until 2019.
The coalition also plans to provide amnesty for its list of at least 70 people in prison for causing the 2014 violence which left 43 dead, the most high-profile of whom is Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced in September to over 13 years in prison for public incitement to violence and association to commit crimes during fatal protests, which were orchestrated by Lopez and other opposition leaders.
Another move, according to Miranda state’s Governor Henrique Capriles, will be to create a body to investigate the PSUV government. According to El Nuevo Herald news website, Capriles also said the new National Assembly members should “not work for one party,” but did not clarify who they should work for.
There will also likely be significant changes to the National Assembly television channel, ANTV. The station, which was created to enhance citizen access to the political workings of the country, may either have its funding cut, or become an opposition alligned propaganda channel, Venezuelan news outlets and commentators said Monday. The media has been significantly reformed during the socialist revolution to increase community participation, as well as that of excluded groups.
Other policies aim to put a corporate agenda back at the heart of Venezuelan life, replacing public services with private sector partnerships.
Several leaders of the opposition spoke openly about reforms to the PSUV’s wealth redistribution efforts. Capriles said, “Look at what is happening with companies in this country … with all that is expropriated or confiscated.”
In line with a pro-business climate, the MUD will go after the government’s Fair Prices Law, which was created to prevent hoarders and smugglers from speculating with government-regulated goods, such as food staples and oil, and to set a reasonable profit, based on the cost of production. Instead it will repeal the law in favor of what opposition leader Correira Cristofer called “quality macroeconomic policies.”
Another government scheme the opposition loves to hate is the housing mission, which has delivered nearly a million homes to low-income Venezuelans. Among the swath of new programs the MUD claims it will enact is the “democratization” of housing, which will allow recipients of government housing to buy their properties and introduce mortgages in future housing programs.
The MUD victory may also significantly change Venezuela’s foreign policy. The socialist revolutionary governments have attempted to claw back sovereignty from economic and political domination by the United States, which has continuously tried to meddle in the country’s internal affairs, going as far as backing a coup attempt in 2002 and, more recently, spying on the state oil company. The opposition, meanwhile, has continued to work with the U.S., lobbying for Lopez and now declaring that it wants to “accompany dialogue” in this new political situation in Venezuela.
‘New Revolutionary Offensive’ Activists Say After Venezuela Loss
The streets of Caracas were quiet on Monday. With banks and schools still closed and political rallying banned as part of the electoral rules, supporters of the two main political coalitions celebrated, or mourned, in private.
But although the Venezuelan socialist PSUV party suffered a resounding defeat in the parliamentary elections, there is little bitterness or excuses from grassroots activists. Instead, many have accepted the results with dignity, and recognized them as an opportunity to work harder on their own causes and to prove that socialism is capable of withstanding its second ever defeat in a Venezuelan election since 1998.
The new revolutionary offensive has begun
Luciana Vazquez is the coordinator of the Barrio Tricolor mission in the Caracas district of Mamera. The program, first created by Hugo Chavez and relaunched under President Nicolas Maduro, aims to transform communities and use planning and infrastructure to bring diginity to neighborhoods. The emphasis is on the community, and on power and decisions from bottom up. Luciana told teleSUR English that the loss of the National Assembly was an opportunity to deepen the revolutionary process in Venezuela.
“The time has come to radicalize the revolution, to work to guarantee a new victory, in the legacy left by (former president) Hugo Chavez,” she said. “No one said that the path of constructing, edifying and consolidating the revolution was easy, and less so if this happens … under a bourgeois and capitalist system. We continue together with the dream of constructing a better socialist Venezuela. The new revolutionary offensive has begun.”
She admitted the current situation was difficult, as though the opposition has at times claimed it wouldn’t dismantle the social missions, she feels some of her resources could be in danger. But she said that the results showed that the social movements have a lot of room for improvement.
“We would improve looking at the weakness we had, to strengthen ourselves and continue organizing, training ourselves, participating. And of course planning to improve even more and to continue working on the complete transformation of the barrios,” she said, before quoting Chavez: “The fight continues. The barrios cannot be destroyed, they have to be transformed.”
This is a historic moment to deepen our work with communities
Pacha Catalina Guzman, who works with Antimantuanos, an autonomous organization unifying communal councils with musical and sporting events, said that she was not expecting the opposition to gain so many seats in the National Assembly.
“But we see it as an opportunity, not as a defeat. This is a historic moment to deepen our work with communities. We will work harder in communities,” she said.
Pacha wanted to emphasize that a political loss was not a defeat for socialism in Venezuela.
“Yesterday the people voted. One political party won, one political party lost. But our purpose is still intact,” she said. “The new situation obliges us to articulate what is people’s power, and what we have achieved in the last 15 years.”
With the whole world watching and waiting for some kind of fraud or outrage to be committed, Venezuelans voted peacefully and calmly, and Venezuela’s electoral body said that there were no irregularities. Pacha said that even though the outcome had not been what they had been hoping for, the process changed international perception of the left in Venezuela.
“For us, the election was an opportunity to show other countries that there is democracy in Venezuela. It was won by a sector that if they lose, there is violence. We lost, and we respect the result, and we are calm. I want to say that the elections were a demonstration of democracy. We respect the results, without resentment or violence. We continue constructing,” she concluded.
Now we have to deepen our confrontation of the economic war
Pierre Marais awoke in a deep depression on Monday. He works for the municipality with social missions on planning with communal councils. Pierre said that the “surprise” result “invites reflection and analysis.”
“For me the most important thing to learn was that the same people who voted for Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro also voted for MUD, as a protest vote,” he said. “We Chavistas, we are very sure of ourselves. Too confident. Maybe there was a lack of understanding, so the government needs to get closer to the neighborhoods.”
But aside from the initial shock, Pierre understood that now is a time for action. From tomorrow, he will be holding debates around neighborhoods under the three pillars: revision, reformation, remotivation.
“Now we have to deepen our confrontation of the economic war. We have to work harder, be more efficient. We have to work more with educating those who voted to punish the government, who may not know the consequences of their actions,” he said.