Ten years after coup, Venezuela vigilant despite gains

“April 13, the great day of victory 10 years ago, opened the way to the independence and unity of our Latin America and the Caribbean,” Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said on April 13. He was speaking during a commemoration of the uprising that toppled a short-lived military coup that aimed to crush the Chavez presidency .

“We showed that a people united will never be defeated.”

The coup attempt was in response to Chavez’ pro-poor policies. The capitalists behind the coup were desperate to stop the Chavez government imposing genuine state control over the nominally state-owned oil company PDVSA the largest corporation in Latin America and putting its revenues at the service of the poor.

Chavez was kidnapped and held hostage. However, a mass uprising of the poor, along with the bulk of the military, defeated the coup within 48 hours. Chavez was restored as president.

The defeat of the coup followed by the defeat of the bosses' lock-out in December 2002-January 2003, shifted the balance of forces in favour of the revolutionary movement led by the Chavez government.

This enabled a number of revolutionary advances the implementation of pro-poor measures that have wiped out illiteracy, brought free health care to millions of people and resulted in the poverty rate halving.

However, the process still faces serious threats. With presidential elections scheduled for October 7, the next few months will be especially dangerous.

During his speech, Chavez called for the revolutionary forces to “be alert in all these days and months to come”. He announced the creation of a “special anti-coup plan” that involves the formation of a “special civic-military command” to defend against any threat.

The threat of the opposition carrying out extra-parliamentary violence, sabotage or subterfuge is rising as the election date approaches. Polls repeatedly show the how unlikely the odds are of right-wing opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski defeating Chavez.

Carlos Sanchez of North American Opinion Research (NAOR) said: of polling data: “We see the victory of Hugo Chavez on October 7 as an irreversible tendency.”

Recent NAOR polling put support for Chavez at 60%, with support for the Chavez-United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) at 56%. Capriles Radonski had a rejection level of 57%.

Battle lines are being drawn in the campaign and the revolution’s pro-poor social missions are taking centre stage.

An election strategy document drawn up by the opposition reveals their bind: “What is the dilemma we confront? In accord with surveys of popular opinion, if the people think we’re going to abandon the missions, we run the risk of losing a very important number of votes.

“But at the same time, if we try to remedy the former problem by championing the missions without an original, critical position toward them, many people will conclude that it’s best to stick with the missions’ original father (Chavez).”

The huge popularity of the missions is due to their achievements. So far, nearly 1.5 million people have achieved literacy via Mission Robinson, 1.4 million have had eyesight improved or restored through Mission Miracle and the Barrio Adentro health care mission has carried out more than 745 million consultations over nine years.

Capriles Radonski’s opposition has begun, on one hand, labeling the missions as organisations of “political blackmail”. But on the other hand, they are proposing a law to “give a legal status to the missions”.

This contradictory position is not likely to gain much traction as the opposition vehemently opposed Chavez’s 2007 attempt to institutionalise the missions.

The PSUV is continuing its nationwide door knocking campaign, meeting face-to -face with 1,750,120 Venezuelans. Chavez tweeted on April 19: “Everyone together! To the streets!

[Owen Richards maintains the blog Venezuela: Translating the Revolution.]

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