Revolution under attack; solidarity needed

The following statement was issued by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) on November 8.

The corporate-owned media internationally is at it again. A new round of lies and distortions are being spread about the peaceful and democratic revolution in Venezuela being led by the government of President Hugo Chavez. The catalyst for this campaign is the democratic process in Venezuela to reform the existing constitution.

The media, ignoring the content of the proposed reforms that would significantly extend democracy and social justice, have, by taking a tiny minority of proposed changes out of context, presented this as a move by Chavez to establish himself as a "dictator-for-life".

This media campaign coincides with a fresh offensive inside Venezuela by the privileged elite that, failing to defeat pro-Chavez forces at the ballot box have resorted to violent campaigns to overthrow the government. Chavez has won 11 straight election victories nationally since 1998, with Chavez being re-elected president last year with the largest number of votes in Venezuelan history.

Strong evidence suggests a fresh campaign of destabilisation is underway.

The US government backed an opposition-led coup in 2002 and continues to provide millions of dollars of funding to opposition groups.

According to the October 24 edition of Venezuelan newspaper Dario Vea, opposition leaders held a meeting with US officials at which the officials urged the opposition to "organise acts of economic sabotage against infrastructure, destroy the food transport and delivery chain … and organise a military coup with all means possible, including bloodshed by means of paramilitary force".

Reports emerged on November 7 of shootings related to protests on at least one university campus — Venezuela's Central University (UCV) leaving at least two students injured. Despite the campus violence being presented in the media as directed against opponents, student supporters of Chavez claim the opposite is true and video evidence emerged showing opposition students violently attacking Chavez supporters.

The previous day, there was a carefully timed press conference by former Chavez ally retired General Raul Baduel to which only pro-opposition media were invited.

Baduel, a former defence minister, argued against the constitutional reforms, repeating opposition claims that they amount to a "constitutional coup". He urged those in the military to study the proposals and act to stop them. This has been widely interpreted as an incitement for a coup, although the government insists the military remains loyal and that the people are prepared to resist attempts to topple Chavez.

The corporate media have provided out-of-context footage and accounts of demonstrations by right-wing students who have organised violent riots that have seen parts of Caracas torched, and have deliberately attempted to provoke security forces to create the impression of a "crackdown" on dissent.

Chavez has accused the opposition of attempting to cause a death that could be blamed on the government.

The corporate media has largely ignored the massive demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people in support of the reforms on November 4, completely dwarfing the right-wing student protests.

Democratic and progressive changes

The proposed changes to the constitution are being carried out democratically and in accordance with the existing constitution, adopted in a national referendum in 1999 after Chavez was first elected president.

The National Assembly (AN), Venezuela's parliament, has debated the proposals, adding 36 others to Chavez's initial list of 33, and adopted the proposals with the necessary two-thirds majority. Now, the proposals will go to the Venezuelan people to reject or accept in a referendum to be held on December 2.

The proposals have been thoroughly debated through out Venezuelan society, with AN deputies participating in popular assemblies that have debated and made proposals relating to the reforms. From August 16 to October 7, some 9020 public meetings were held and over 10 million copies of the proposals have been distributed.

The media have ignored the profoundly democratic and progressive nature of the proposed changes. These include the constitutional recognition of new institutions of popular power based on direct democracy, such as the communal councils, as well as a series of new measures to allow people to directly manage resources and decision making in their communities.

While respecting the right to private property, the reforms recognise new forms of "social property" run by and for the people themselves, and gives further recognition to the growing number of cooperatives.

If adopted, the reforms would make Venezuela the first country in South America to recognise the rights of gay men and lesbians in its constitution. The voting age would be reduced to 16 years. The reforms also aim to strengthen protection for the rights and culture of Afro-Venezuelans and indigenous people. Governments would be obliged to ensure free university education is available to the entire population.

Workers' rights will be significantly extended, including a reduction in the working week from 44 to 36 hours, and the provision of social security and pensions to workers in the so-called informal economy.

The corporate media have focused overwhelmingly on two proposed changes — the proposal to allow a president to stand for election for more than two terms, and a new proposal from the AN giving the government the ability to call a "state of emergency".

The media ignore the fact that many nations around the world allow a president to stand for re-election for an unlimited number of times, and the Venezuelan constitution grants people the ability to recall any elected official, including the president, before their term finishes. Chavez faced such a recall referendum in 2004, after 20% of the population signed a petition calling for it. He won with nearly 60% of the vote.

The measure to call a state of emergency, which was enshrined in Venezuela's 1961 constitution, is not fundamentally any different to similar measures in many countries' constitutions, including those of the US and Australia. There was no corporate media outcry when US President George Bush declared a "state of emergency" in California on October 23 as wildfires raged out of control in the southern part of the state. US presidents can declare states of emergency that suspend citizens' normal rights and liberties for up to two years.

It should also be noted that it is the same right-wing forces that organised the April 2002 generals' coup against Chavez — abolishing the constitution and the country's Supreme Court, and imposing martial law — that are now funding and organising the campaign against the proposed constitutional reforms.

Powerful interests threatened

Behind this is the hand of the US government and corporate interests, that stand to lose power and wealth. The constitutional reforms will provide a legal framework for significant advances towards empowering Venezuela's poor majority, which explains the increasing desperation of US and Venezuelan corporate elites.

Chavez told supporters of the reforms at a mass meeting on November 6 that the current offensive against the elected government "is part of an international conflict, because we have declared ourselves free… The United States wants a Venezuela that is on its knees, weakened, dependent, like a sick person in intensive care." Chavez insisted his opponents are never going to achieve this.

In Australia, we can expect an increase in media, and possibly government, hostility to the Chavez government, as Venezuela's pro-people policies begin to extend to the South Pacific region. In October, Venezuelan deputy foreign minister Vladimir Villegas attended the Pacific Forum and offered to provide the impoverished nations within it similar energy deals to assist them as Venezuela has to poor nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. This stands in stark contrast to Australia's policy of exploiting the resources of Pacific nations, and keeping them dependent on its "aid".

Hostility to Venezuela's humanitarian approach has already begun, with the October 20 Australian reporting: "The government of international pariah Hugo Chavez has signalled a challenge to Australia's influence in the Pacific with an aggressive diplomatic push based on cheap fuel for island states." Chavez, of course, is only an "international pariah" with Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the Western ruling elites, not with the peoples of the South Pacific or the rest of the underdeveloped world.

Solidarity needed now

It is important that progressive, social-justice-minded people in Australia understand that it is this perceived threat to Australian corporate interests that drives the media campaign against Venezuelan revolution. Supporters of the Venezuela's democratic revolution, and all supporters of democracy and social justice, need to raise their voices now against the latest threat to the Venezuelan revolution.

The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network is organising solidarity actions in the lead-up to the December 2 referendum on the constitutional reforms. Please visit for the details.

Another crucial aspect of building solidarity is the AVSN-initiated campaign for Hugo Chavez to be invited to visit Australia, which he has indicated he is interested in accepting, provided it gathers enough support.

[To add your name to this, and find out how you can assist in building the campaign, visit the AVSN website. For accounts of what really occurred in relation to campus violence, please visit

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