Fact and fiction in Venezuela’s recall election

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Venezuela Fiction

The Non Aligned Movement (NAM), whose presidency Venezuela has just assumed, has rallied to defend the country against US-backed counter-revolution. With its 120 member states and commitment to self-determination, NAM exists as a counter to the imperialist-dominated United Nations, and is the world’s second largest international body. At its most recent summit in September, held on the Venezuelan island of Margarita, NAM rejected all imperialist intervention in Venezuela. It made it clear that, despite a crushing economic crisis and never-ending attempts to topple the country’s socialist PSUV government, the Bolivarian revolution continues to defend massive social gains in health, education, and housing whilst upholding the rights of oppressed people the world over. Sam Mcgill reports.

September saw Caracas thronged with opposing white and red banners as the neo-liberal Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition pledged to ‘take the capital’, whilst Chavista socialists mobilised to oppose the threat of a coup. The protests have focused on the opposition’s efforts to hold a recall referendum to oust PSUV President Nicolas Maduro and force fresh presidential elections. The day before the largest demonstration, on 1 September, the authorities seized guns and explosives from opposition forces, dismantling a ‘paramilitary camp’ near the presidential palace of Miraflores. Some opposition protesters have since resorted to violence, burning cars, hurling Molotov cocktails and attacking police. Further protests are scheduled throughout October.

The timing of the referendum is pivotal. In May, MUD submitted 1.85 million signatures as part of the first stage of proceedings. The next step is the collection of signatures from 20% of registered voters over three days from 26 October. Once these signatures are validated, a date for the referendum will be released and is planned for early 2017. For MUD to win it must secure at least 7,505,338 votes, equalling the total number of votes Maduro won in the presidential elections of 2013. The timetable has been decried by the opposition, as constitutionally a recall referendum held after 10 January 2017 will not trigger fresh presidential elections. If Maduro loses, the PSUV Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz will serve out the remainder of the presidential term until scheduled elections in autumn 2018.

International media have been quick to denounce this as a crackdown against democracy, but it is important to recognise a recall referendum itself is a rare provision. Only 11 countries in the world have full recall elections for nationally held positions and only in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador can a recall referendum be used to remove a President. This democratic right exists in Venezuela thanks to the constituent assembly convened by socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 1999 which drew up a new constitution approved by popular referendum, a major step towards the system of participatory democracy being developed in Venezuela today.

Throughout the last 17 years of the Bolivarian revolutionary process, the referendum procedure has been exercised many times with ten recalls against municipal officials and most notably, the failed referendum against President Hugo Chavez in 2004. This is alongside an almost yearly rotation of presidential, municipal, parliamentary, governor and mayoral elections.

Previous referendums have also been lengthy processes, the 2004 recall referendum took over 300 days, beginning in October 2003 with the final referendum held in August 2004. A major time-consuming factor is the validation of signatures. Given that the electoral council (CNE) found 600,000 invalid signatures in May’s petition, including nearly 11,000 from deceased voters, the timescale given to the process is justified. It is telling that MUD was happy to recognise the impartiality of the CNE when it won December’s parliamentary elections, but cries corruption when it suits.

The MUD coalition remains divided and fragmented. Despite a majority in the National Assembly it has so far failed to present any programme to resolve Venezuela’s economic crisis and has no clear presidential candidate to unite behind. Handing in the initial petition as late as May meant it was highly unlikely that a referendum would take place until 2017. However, not contesting presidential elections until the end of 2018 gives MUD vital time to thrash out a programme while continuing its attempts to bring down the government by other means. Key to MUD’s   tactics is an attempt to isolate Venezuela diplomatically. In this it has a willing chorus of international backers, with 15 out of 35 members of the Organisation of American States releasing a joint statement unconstitutionally demanding a referendum before January 2017. Meanwhile founding Mercosur members, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina – now under right wing control – have blocked Venezuela assuming the regional trading body’s rotating presidency.

Recent polls indicate Maduro will lose the referendum; the economic crisis is taking its toll. Inflation has been running at around 370% for the last 12 months, the unofficial exchange rate for the bolivar has soared to 1,000Bs per dollar, whilst a 40% drop in oil export income in 2015 has eaten into international reserves, pushing them below $12bn, reducing imports. Private sector hoarding, speculation and economic sabotage continue, resulting in long queues at supermarkets and continuing scarcities of food, medicines and basic goods. However the increasing gulf between official exchange rates, subsidised goods prices, salaries and the parallel unofficial market encourage corruption and financial scams at all levels of society, fuelling discontent that the MUD coalition is quick to exploit.

With over 70% of the non-oil economy controlled by the private sector, essential measures such as nationalising imports and exports, expropriating private distribution networks, or drastically rebalancing the currency could unleash civil war; However, inaction is grinding down support for the Bolivarian process and driving voters to support the recall referendum. Yet despite immense economic and political pressure, the Bolivarian state is still committed to social progress, guaranteeing free health care and free education and building 184,000 units of social housing in 2015 alone. The project to develop participatory democracy through communal councils and communes continues, building the political organisation of the working class and poor. These are the achievements the MUD coalition is keen to roll back. With no end in sight for domestic and international destabilisation, the role of solidarity movements must be to challenge the media war against Venezuela, exposing the daily lies designed to erode our support for the struggle to build socialism.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 253 October/November 2016

 

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