by Yanis Iqbal
Venezuela’s Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) – an alliance of revolutionary and progressive forces led by the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) – has emerged triumphant from the legislative elections held on December 6, 2020. Obtaining 69% of the total votes, the PSUV and its allies will now hold 253 of the 277 seats in the parliament.
107 political parties – 90% of which belonged to the opposition – had registered for the election, with 14,400 candidates running (three times more than in 2015). The electoral process was perfectly legitimate, supervised by a reconstituted National Electoral Council (CNE) and with the expansion of proportional representation, a political fact of utmost importance.
Peaceful National Assembly elections were the product of a process of dialogue and national reconciliation promoted by Maduro who reiterated the call to sectors of the Venezuelan opposition to find democratic ways to resolve political differences. In the closing stages of the election, he had said: “There are those who plot coups, those who ask for military intervention, we say: votes yes — war no, bullets no.”
In August 2020, as part of the National Dialogue for Peace, Maduro used the power conferred by Article 236 of the Bolivarian Constitution to grant presidential pardon to 110 citizens, some of them repeat offenders in various crimes, including an assassination attempt against the President himself, appropriation of public property, political violence and hate crimes.
Taking into account the context in which the elections occurred, they express an extremely significant advance in the global battle against imperialism. On September 7, 2020, Adán Chávez Frías, Vice President of International Affairs of PSUV, released a statement where she wrote that the 2020 election will be an “event in which we are sure the revolutionary forces will win back the National Assembly, putting it again at the service of the Venezuelan People, after years of frustrated coup adventure by those who, with all certainty, no longer represent anyone.” Three months later, her prophetic conviction in the struggle of the masses has turned out to be true as Chavista political groupings get re-elected to carry forward the Bolivarian Revolution.
Two factors account for the continued hegemony of socialist forces in Venezuela: the Bolivarian Revolution and US imperialism.
The Bolivarian Revolution
Ever since Hugo Chavez rose to power in 1999, Venezuela has exerted greater control over its vast oil resources; expropriated various businesses and nationalized some industries; and sought to diversify the country’s economic relations away from the US. On all three counts, the Venezuelan government succeeded: it received more revenue from oil ventures, took over many businesses and industries, and established stronger relations with countries in the Global South.
The policies implemented by the Chavista administration were singularly motivated by a desire to establish socialism. To work towards this comprehensive goal, Chavez formulated the concept of the “elementary triangle of socialism”. Serving as the basic blueprint of everyday concrete actions, this triangle is composed of social production organized by workers, social ownership of the means of production and the focus upon satisfying social needs.
Firstly, social production organized by workers allows them to develop their capacities by fusing thinking and doing in such a way as to produce not only commodities, but also to regenerate themselves as self-conscious producers. Secondly, social ownership of the means of production ensures that production is directed to the liberation of all rather than the grotesque enrichment of the few. Thirdly, satisfaction of social needs is the essential goal of productive activity because it replaces the logic of profit-maximization with the logic of collective solidarity.
Although contradictions remained in the socio-economic arrangements created by Chavez, Venezuela did guarantee their citizens some minimal standard of economic survival and security, including guaranteed education, employment, housing, and medical assistance.
Comprehensive in scope and ambitious in design, progressive reforms initiated by the Bolivarian Revolution intended to achieve a variety of objectives: ensuring functional and numerical literacy among adults, supporting high school dropouts, and increasing access to postsecondary training; improving access to high-quality, nutritious, safe, and organic food; and providing free community health care, hospital services, and preventive resources.
In 1998, there were 1,628 primary care centers in Venezuela (each with one physician), 417 emergency rooms, and 74 rehab centers. By 2007, those numbers had grown to 8,621 primary care centers (with 19,751 physicians), 721 emergency rooms, and 445 rehab centers. The number of students in primary schools increased during the 1999-2006 period from 271,593 to 1,098,489; total students admitted to school food programs increased from 252,000 to 1,800,000.
By 2006 there were more than 15,000 stores offering basic food items at subsidized prices (27-39% below average market prices). This service benefited an average 67% of the population in 2005. Consequently, the poverty rate also decreased rapidly, from 55.1% in 2003 to 30.4% at the end of 2006. When compared to the pre-Chávez period, poverty was reduced by 31%.
Following the approval of a new constitution through popular consultation, a number of measures have been implemented to construct the foundations of a decentralized socialist architecture. The establishment of Urban Land Committees in 2002, the passing of the 2006 “Fundamental Law of Communal Councils” and 14 laws known as the “laws of popular power” in 2009/10 are some of the major milestones of this overarching program of communal socialism. These laws defined a new bottom-up structure of spatial governance based on communal councils. Communal councils represent the basic planning level where citizens participate and are entitled to prepare a community plan for their commune. Communal councils had been established in 2006 as the building block for the Comprehensive National Planning System.
US Tactics of Destabilization and Suffocation
At a time when USA was regulating the global capitalist order through its post-WWII institutions of unipolar dominance, a program like Chavismo unsettled the composure of the rent-seeking oligarchy and placed Venezuela at the epicenter of the American strategy for continental domination.
The outstanding oil wealth of Venezuelan territory is complemented by a privileged geographic position that links the Greater Caribbean to the Amazon basin, in addition to its strategic proximity to the Panama Canal. Nothing could be more appealing for a profit-hungry bourgeoisie. These same advantages nurtured a cozy and comfortable oligarchy that fed parasitically off the oil wealth. Avid for brutal dominance, under the wing of Washington, this oligarchy seeks to impose its will over popular classes revolutionized by Chavez’s socialist movement.
Initially, the US relied heavily upon political tactics to destabilize the Venezuelan government and to consolidate right-wing groups within the country. America’s so-called “democracy-promoting” agencies spearheaded this anti-Chavista offensive, including United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its associated groups, including the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the Solidarity Center.
Before Chávez took office, the NED maintained little presence in the country. Following his election, however, the George W Bush administration substantially increased funding for the organization, and the NDI established a field office in the country. Though the IRI formerly worked with some youth organizations, both NDI and IRI directed their efforts towards bolstering the capabilities of right-wing political parties. One IRI contractor has stated that the purpose of their activities in the country was to help the opposition “get [their] shit together so they could defeat Chávez.”
Beginning with Maduro’s election to presidency, USA’s imperialist onslaught intensified, with sanctions occupying the centre stage. In January of 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed Elliott Abrams to the post of special envoy to Venezuela, signaling the escalation US bellicosity towards that country.
Abrams is an unapologetic war criminal and a card-carrying hawk, having assumed the post of then President Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs one day after the infamous 1981 massacre of up to 1,200 people in the Salvadoran village of El Mozote by the US-trained and funded Atlacatl Battalion. He has also praised Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt for having “brought considerable progress” in the field of human rights – this being said in the context of a murderous war that killed over 200,000 Guatemalans, with the state found to be responsible for no less than 93% of human rights violations. Considering his grisly credentials as a full-blooded imperialist, it is no surprise that he was chosen to lead the US aggression against Venezuela.
In a letter written on October 2, 2020, Maduro talked about USA’s
“sophisticated policy of multiform aggression against Venezuela which – in five years – has succeeded in cutting off financing to Venezuela, preventing it from accessing the required currency to acquire food, medicine, spare parts, and essential raw materials for economic activity. During that period, Venezuela experienced the sharpest fall in its external income in all of its history, close to 99%.”
With the help of sanctions, USA placed prohibitions on every kind of transactions: bonds, loans, letters of credit, invoices or discount notes and commercial papers. Restrictions were also placed on the activities of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and the state owned enterprise Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA), leading to financially toxified environment unconducive to the credit-thirsty oil industry.
The ultimate aim of illegal sanctions has never been concealed, namely the toppling of Maduro’s administration. A senior Trump administration official has said that
“The effect of the sanctions is continuing and cumulative. It’s sort of like in Star Wars when Darth Vader constricts somebody’s throat, that’s what we are doing to the regime economically.”
In 2018, a US embassy official in Mexico unashamedly declared:
“The pressure campaign is working. The economic sanctions that we have imposed on the Venezuelan Government have forced it to enter into default of payments, both in sovereign debt and PDVSA, its oil company. And what we are seeing is a total economic collapse in Venezuela”.
External attacks have combined with an internal counter-revolutionary campaign to wage a full-scale hybrid war against Venezuela. Since his election, Maduro has faced two waves of political violence from extreme right groups in 2014 and 2017, an economic war comprising of planned scarcity and induced inflation, the attempted use of lawfare tactics to overthrow him by the opposition-led National Assembly since 2015, an assassination attempt with drones in 2018, the self-proclamation of an illegal interim President promoted by Washington and an attempted coup in 2019, among others.
A Victory against the American Empire
The political climate engendered by the Bolivarian Revolution and the suffering inflicted by opposition-backed imperialist policies have converged to increase the popularity of Chavismo. While the former served the people and challenged relations of domination, the latter halted the process of change and visibly aimed at snatching away the dignity enjoyed by the poor. Such a polarized electoral arena made the choice easy for voters: elect a party which struggles in conjunction with the people for better lives and does not abet murderous economic terrorism. The victory of the PSUV is an indication of the strength of Venezuelans’ heroic struggle against imperialism.
Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at . His articles have been published by different magazines and websites such as Monthly Review Online, ZNet, Green Social Thought, Weekly Worker, News and Letters Weekly, Economic and Political Weekly, Arena, Eurasia Review, Coventry University Press, Culture Matters, Global Research, Dissident Voice, Countercurrents, Counterview, Hampton Institute, Ecuador Today, People’s Review, Eleventh Column, Karvaan India, Clarion India, OpEd News, The Iraq File, Portside and the Institute of Latin American Studies.