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Venezuela’s Elections: Defeat for the Opposition, Advance for the Bolivarian Movement

by Jorge Martin


Early results of Venezuela’s regional and council elections, announced at 12:40 am by the National Electoral Council (CNE), confirm the predictions of yet another election victory for Chávez’s Bolivarian movement, the ninth in just six years.

Although these results are still provisional, and in some cases they are based on just above 50% of the counted votes, they seem to indicate a clear victory for Bolivarian governors in 20 out of 22 of the country’s states. According to these provisional results, Chávez supporters have also won a number of important highly contested races in what were previously opposition strongholds. This is the case in oil rich and industrial Anzoátegui, where Tarek William Saab has beaten the opposition by 57% to 42%; in Bolivar, where most of the basic industries are concentrated, Chávez’s candidate has won by 58% to 39%; and in the Colombian border state of Táchira, Ronald Blanco La Cruz has won by 57% to the opposition candidate’s 40%. In Apure the Bolivarian candidate won a previously opposition dominated state with a massive 70% of the vote. Monagas was also taken from the opposition by Gato Briceáo.

But the most important victories for the chavista movement come in the key states of Miranda and Carabobo, until now ruled by prominent national opposition leaders Enrique Mendoza and Henrique Salas Feo. If this is confirmed by the final count these would be two major defeats for the opposition and would increase their internal divisions and lead to even greater demoralisation.

In both cases Mendoza and Salas Feo were contesting the provisional results announced by the CNE and calling on their supporters to come out on the streets. In the case of Carabobo, Salas Feo tried to use the same trick that the opposition wanted to use in the August 15th presidential recall referendum by announcing that he had “won” immediately after the closing of the polling stations. This was quickly denounced by CNE member Oscar Bataglini, who reminded him that his actions were illegal and that only the CNE was allowed to announce any results. Opposition governors in Bolivar and Yaracuy did the same. In mainly peasant state Yaracuy the results announced by the CNE were very close, giving only a 300-vote lead for the Bolivarian candidate.

It is not clear whether the opposition will accept their losses in key places like Carabobo, Miranda and Yaracuy. Chávez has warned that the government will use the National Guard to ensure the rule of law if defeated opposition governors refuse to recognise the results. Last night power cuts caused confusion in Bolivar during the counting process. Chávez supporters blamed the defeated opposition governor since he has links with the privatised regional electricity company. This little detail underlines the dangers involved in leaving key economic levers in the hands of the reactionary opposition.

There were only two setbacks for the Bolivarian movement. It seems clear that they have lost the race for the oil rich Zulia state on the border with Colombia, where current opposition governor Manuel Rosales won by 55% against 43% for pro-Chávez candidate Alberto Gutiárrez. The other setback was in Nueva Esparta where chavista governor Alexis Navarro lost to opposition Morel Rodriguez by a clear 51% to 43%. A number of factors explain this defeat in Isla Margarita, which was already the only state to vote narrowly against Chávez on August 15th, among them the accusations of corruption and incompetence levelled against the current pro-Chávez governor.

In the state of Vargas, Antonio Rodráguez, the candidate officially supported by the Comando Maisanta won a clear victory with 55% of the votes, against independent oppositionist Ricardo Smith (20%) and alternative revolutionary candidate Gladys Requena (10%).

In the mayoral elections, Bolivarian candidate Juan Barreto won a clear victory (63% against 38% for the opposition candidate) in the very important Greater Caracas council (which has powers similar to a state). This mayoralty had been controlled by Alfredo Peáa, who had been elected on a Bolivarian ticket but then became an opposition supporter and used the council’s police force, the Metropolitan police, as an armed wing of the opposition. In the last days of the race, when it was clear that Barreto was going to win, Peáa withdrew from the race and called on his supporters not to participate.

Caracas Libertador council remains firmly in the hands of chavista mayor Freddy Bernal who won by a comfortable margin (74%) against opposition candidate Carlos Melo (19%). The latter was put on trial when weapons were found in the boot of his car during the opposition organised, quasi-fascist provocations last February (and later acquitted by the judge for “lack of evidence?).

Baruta, Chacao and El Hatillo, three other Caracas councils in the middle class and rich urbanizaciones in the East of the capital remain firmly in the hands of the opposition. Henrique Capriles (who is presently on trial for his part in the assault on the Cuban embassy during the April 11, 2002, opposition coup) held Baruta with 77% of the votes and Leopoldo Lápez won a clear victory in Chacao (80%). Bolivarian candidate Josá Vicente Rangel also won the Caracas council of Sucre (52% to 46%), also in the East but comprising a number of working class and poor barrios.

The results for many other local councils are still to be announced but it is expected that supporters of the Bolivarian revolution will be able to go from controlling roughly a third of local councils to two thirds.

What next?

Throughout the election campaign Chávez has used a very radical language, particularly in relation to the need to proceed with the land reform (which has already distributed large tracts of land, but which was mainly previously owned by the state) and against the latifundia. He directly instructed a number of candidates for state governor to tackle this issue immediately after being elected. He said they should carry out a census of all big landed estates and check whether that land was being used or not. They should then have meetings with the latifundia owners and ask them to give up all land they did not really need. If they were not prepared to make an agreement, then the expropriations law should be used to distribute their land. While he insisted that agreement with the landowners was his preferred option, he also added that he did not fear confrontation over this issue and that he would go as far as using the army to enforce expropriation of the land if needed.

He has also added that elected Bolivarian mayors and governors should be committed to the revolution and the cause of the poor. They should resist anything based on their own personal gain, and should fight corruption and nepotism. To illustrate the point, in a mass rally in Táchira, he explained how he had made a speech against the latifundia in a peasant area. After the speech he had tried to meet with the local mayor, but was told he was on a rural estate having a drink and eating beef. He then found out that the estate in question belonged to the region’s largest landowner! This mayor was allegedly a chavista, but in reality he was a traitor. Chávez stressed that such individuals should not be allowed into the movement.

But his speeches have not only been against latifundia and about the need to advance the revolution in the countryside. Hugo Chávez has also explained clearly that capitalism cannot solve the problems of the poor. In a number of rallies he has made clear that the revolution must not only be social (that is the health, education and other social plans already being implemented and benefiting millions) but also economic. “Within the framework of capitalism it is impossible to solve the challenges of fighting against poverty, misery, exploitation, inequality?

In a mass rally in Bolivar he developed this idea. He said that Venezuela has achieved political liberation in the sense that it no longer depends on any foreign power, but he added that that is just one degree of freedom. “What we have here, deep rooted in Venezuela, is a system of domination which chains us, which has oppressed us for a long time. The capitalist economic system is a system of domination imposed on our people so that a wealthy minority dominates an impoverished minority. This is economic tyranny. And this economic tyranny is still intact. We are going to break it up once and for all through a revolutionary process of economic and social liberation?

In a number of electoral speeches president Chávez added to the call for agrarian revolution a call for expropriation of factories which are left idle by their owners and of buildings in the cities that are left idle so that they can be used to the benefit of the majority of the people. He clearly stated that, “wherever there is a factory that is closed it must be handed over to the workers, wherever there is a plot of land that is idle it must be given to the peasants... we must break with the capitalist model?

We would agree with all this, but now these words must be transformed into action, not only in the countryside, but also in relation to abandoned industries. Venepal, the paper mill in Morán, Carabobo, declared bankrupt by its owners and occupied by its workforce would be a good place to start.

It is clear that the masses of workers and peasants, who form the core of this Bolivarian movement, will interpret the appeals of Hugo Chávez as a call to action, and no doubt some mayors and governors will attempt to implement them. After this further defeat of the opposition, conditions are even more favorable for the movement to go forward. Capitalism could be snuffed out in Venezuela. The opportunity must not be wasted.