As the final weeks of the Venezuelan presidential election campaign unfold, an intense battle of ideas is under way. The poll on October 7 is looming as one of the most important elections in the country´s history.
On one hand, the right-wing opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, and his Roundtable for Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition, has produced a program aimed to privatise great sections of Venezuelan industry, particularly the state oil company PDVSA. This would destroy the economic basis for the Bolivarian revolution led by the government of President Hugo Chavez, whose gains rely on funds from PDVSA.
The MUD program would gut the social missions, slashing public expenditure and reversing the widespread gains made by the Venezuelan people since Chavez was first elected in 1998.
On the other hand, Chavez has launched an all-out political offensive to demolish right-wing opposition, with huge rallies and caravans of cars and buses all around the country daily.
The Chavez campaign fiercely criticises Capriles´ neoliberal economic package. It highlights the tremendous social gains of the revolution, while pushing a program aimed at a radical transition towards “socialism of the 21st century”.
“In a few weeks, we will see what the people of Venezuela are capable of,” Chavez told the media before starting a huge caravan truck tour of the poor barrio of Catia in the west of Caracas.
“Once more they are going to repudiate the capitalist media campaign, above all the lies and the corruption of the capitalist class, who are attempting to hide the reality of the opposition´s neoliberal policy package.”
Chavez reminded journalists that in the 2006 presidential elections, his campaign won 73% of the vote in Catia. Ahead of the October 7 poll, Chavez leads right-wing opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski in the opinion polls by 18-24 points.
“Be sure that we will not fall down from there,” Chavez said. “Catia is a bastion of the Bolivarian revolution.”
Chavez said Venezuela is the epicentre of an international battle: “It is a battle for truth, of the people against the capitalist class. We will win with socialism and with an awakened people.”
The Capriles campaign has suffered serious blows recently. Some conservative parties and political figures have withdrawn support, with disagreements over the neoliberal policies of the Roundtable for Democratic Unity MUD coalition backing Capriles a big factor.
These policies involve widespread privatisation of public assets, cuts to public spending and sacking public servants.
The latest scandal to hit the opposition campaign has been the release of a video showing Capriles campaign official Juan Carlos Caldera receiving money from a Colombian businessperson, alleged to be a drug baron. The National Assembly has responded by calling on the National Electoral Council to launch an investigation into the financing of Capriles' campaign.
The Chavez campaign, on the other hand, has been notable for the high involvement of youth. At stalls organised by the pro-Chavista Campaign Carabobo around the country, the activism of young people has been very noticeable.
At a Chavista caravan of hundreds of cars, trucks and buses in Merida on September 14, we saw thousands of youth wearing red T-shirts, waving pro-Chavez flags, banners and posters, and chanting support for the socialist president.
The caravan took around two hours to pass through the city centre, accompanied by honking horns and loud music.
Young people constantly stand at the entrances to Metro stations in Caracas handing out pro-Chavez leaflets. We even saw graduating students marching alongside the highway from Maracay to the capital, holding placards and banners supporting the socialist campaign.
At a huge rally of youths in the Poliedro Stadium on September 19, Chavez told the crowd: “This is an impressive force that springs from the heart of Venezuelan youth.
“You, who were born in the middle of a hurricane with the Caracazo [popular uprising in 1989] and the February 1992 [an attempted coup by progressive soldiers led by Chavez], are the children of the revolution … You are going to construct with your own hands the socialist Venezuela of the 21st century.
“We cannot afford to lose this battle,” Chavez said. “We are obliged to win.”
He called on the “patriotic youth, with all your energy, to spread out in all the streets of the country”, and to “develop the best campaign in order to ensure the best possible victory”.
Below is the text, translated from Spanish, of a widely distributed leaflet published by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the main popular organisation supporting Chavez's election campaign:
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Achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution:
1. Development of participatory democracy, acting together toward popular power.
2. Gains of petroleum industry funding: With an investment of 62% of the total income of the nation.
3. The lowest indices of inequality in Latin America, over the past 12 years: The indices of extreme poverty are well down, along with poverty in general, with the Gini Coefficient (the measure of inequality in the distribution of income) being the lowest in the history of Venezuela. The Index of Human Development (IDH) has risen.
4. Education: With the achievements of [free education program] Mission Robinson, UNESCO has declared Venezuela a country free of illiteracy. Now, 95 out every 100 children are students. Access to primary education has risen from 43% to 70%. Venezuela occupies the the second place in Latin America and fifth in the world in university graduation.
5. Health: Venezuela maintains an investment of 7.8% of GNP in the area of health. About 470 million consultations have been conducted by [free healthcare program] Mission Barrio Adentro, saving 301,000 lives. The level of infant mortality has been reduced by 32%.
6. Combating unemployment: The jobless rate has been reduced from 16.1% (1998) to 6.5%. The minimum wage is among the highest in Latin America. Also, workers receive a bonus of food, and the payment of pensions has been made equivalent to the minimum wage.
7. Food: With Mission Alimentation, food is offered at lower prices. The nutritional deficit went down from 5.3% in 1999 to 2.9% now. “Houses of Alimentation” [providing free food to the poor] have been created in the popular communities.
8. Economic sovereignty: The Gross Domestic Product rose 4% in 2011, resulting in an rise in the non-petroleum sector.
9. Technological sovereignty. The Network of Infocentres, the Bolivarian Centres of Information, the National Plan for Technological Literacy, and the nationalisation of [telecommunications company] CANTV have all been implemented. The Simon Bolivar satellite has been put into orbit and the government is preparing to launch another satellite.
10. Sovereignty in foreign relations: Venezuela has pushed for spaces of integration and unity for the peoples of the world, such as in Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), PETROCARIBE [which provides cheap oil to Caribbean nations], and more recently, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR).
11. The PSUV throughout Venezuela: The party [with millions of members] is using its strength to attempt to dismantle the vestiges of capitalist exclusion by building bases for the construction of socialism, through expanding social inclusion, as part of the revolution, and struggling against economic speculation.
12. Grand Mission AgroVenezuela: Deepening the security and sovereignty of agricultural food production.
13. Grand Mission Vivienda Venezuela: With the aim of building more than 2 million homes in seven years.
14. Grand Mission Amor Mayor, Love of the Older Generation: Dedicated to recognising the work of those older people who work all their lives, but were not previously counted for Social Security.
15. Grand Mission Children of Venezuela: Providing economic assistance to adolescent mothers and pregnant women, to families with children less than 17 years old and to families of disabled children.
16. Grand Mission Knowledge and Work: Aimed to establish the basis for the development of a system of productive and liberating work for all.