Venezuela: Mass march celebrates revolution


Dwarfing recent opposition protests, more than 100,000 supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez marched in Caracas on February 4 in defence of the government and to celebrate 18 years since Chavez led a failed civilian-military uprising against a corrupt government in 1992.

Meanwhile, several hundred opposition students protested in Brion Plaza in eastern Caracas on the same day, throwing rocks and bottles at police.

Two days earlier, Venezuela celebrated 11 years since President Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998 on the back of a wave of popular rebellion against neoliberalism. This signified for many the beginning of the "Bolivarian Revolution" — a radical social process named after Latin American independence hero, Simon Bolivar.
In a nationally televised speech in the Teresa Careno Theatre in Caracas, Chavez outlined the achievements of his 11 years of government, arguing that the Bolivarian revolution "is here to stay".

Since coming to power with the solid backing of Venezuela's poor majority, the Chavez government has used revenues from the country's vast oil resources to promote policies of social inclusion, resulting in significant improvements in healthcare, education, employment and poverty reduction.

The government has also promoted a process of grassroots participation, through communal councils, and health and education committees. Internationally, the Chavez government, together with other regional left-wing governments, has promoted Latin American integration and independence from US domination.

These policies have produced a sharp conflict with economic elites in Venezuela and earned the ire of successive US administrations, producing a tumultuous political polarisation.

Right-wing opposition groups have made several attempts to oust the democratically elected Chavez, including a US-backed military coup in 2002 that was overturned by mass popular demonstrations and loyal soldiers, and an oil industry lockout in early 2003 that caused an estimated US$20 billion damage to Venezuela's economy.

However, as Venezuelans prepare for parliamentary elections in September, political polarisation is on the rise again.

The February 2 celebrations occurred in the context of a wave of violent opposition protests in support of privately owned television station RCTV, which was temporarily suspended on January 23 for violations of the country's media regulations.

In 2007, RCTV's license to use a government-owned television signal expired. When the license was not renewed by the government, the company began broadcasting on cable.

RCTV actively participated in the 2002 coup and has frequently broadcast calls for the government to be overthrown.

Opposition groups claim Chavez is a "dictator" and that there is no "freedom of expression" in Venezuela, despite the fact the majority of the radio, television and print media continues to be privately owned and are fiercely critical of the government.

Government supporters have mobilised in support of the measure against RCTV, arguing that the television station is part of a plan to destabilise the government.

Gonzalo Gomez, co-founder of the popular grassroots-run website said RCTV and other private media in Venezuela "distort information, placing it at the service of their ideological hegemony". He said community and social media "shows what is really happening" in Venezuela.

Chavez said it is "essential for the revolution to win a majority" in the national assembly elections. Venezuela's notoriously divided opposition says it is working towards a united campaign.

Chavez continues to enjoy support from Venezuela's poor and working-class majority, with an approval rating of 60%.

However, overall support for his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is much lower at 32% and frustration over ongoing problems such as crime, electricity shortages, inflation, rubbish collection and government inefficiency indicates a victory in the September poll is not assured.

The commemoration also coincided with the official swearing in ceremony of Elias Jaua, as Venezuela's new vice-president.

During his speech Jaua argued that beyond improvements in social and economic indicators, Venezuela has recovered its sovereignty and national dignity as a result of the revolution. He said: "Venezuela is now a country independent of any foreign power. "
Jaua highlighted the high levels of popular organisation and political consciousness that have developed. "National identity has been placed in the memory, in the hearts and the emotions of our people."

He said the "creation of popular power" is vital for building socialism in Venezuela.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]