BY CHRISTANO KERRILA
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez began his six-year second term in 2000, his party only controlled the executive and the parliamentary arms of government. The Venezuelan oligarchy continues to control some regional and city administrations. Provincial governors organise resistance against Chavez and the Caracas mayor's metropolitan police are used to repress revolutionary activists and workers. However, the only federal institution in the elite's control is the Supreme Court of Justice.
The court has dismissed charges against the leaders of the April 2002 military coup (even though the plotters dissolved the Supreme Court) and this year's bosses strike. These decisions have left the right-wing forces a free hand to organise sabotage inside and outside Venezuela.
However, the court is also influenced by mass mobilisation of Venezuela's poor and working class. For example, after hundreds of thousands of people mobilised against the devastating employers' December-February shutdown, the Supreme Court ruled that the managers and technocrats sabotaging the oil industry must return to work, calling their "strike" illegal. This was a big blow to the opposition.
More recently, the court has shown its pro-opposition bias by ruling against Cuban doctors working for free in Venezuela's slums, where Venezuelan doctors refuse to work. The ruling undermines a social program that is crystallising support for the Chavez government in the poor barrios.
According to an article in the August 18 Forbes magazine, the court is siding with the owners of a Caracas paper factory against its workers, who have taken over the plant in reaction to mass illegal sackings. The company is being blockaded by the workers, and they are not letting anyone in or out. They have confiscated weapons and vehicles from the company's security personnel.
According to the Forbes article, the takeover was encouraged by senior government members. It is being portrayed as an assault on the property rights of all employers and as a victory for the workers would set a precedent. (This is only one example of the many factory takeovers, see <http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=10584>.) The Supreme Court is the last major institution in which the capitalist oligarchy can challenge them.
Meanwhile, the Chavez government is trying to implement legislation that will in effect create a majority of pro-government judges.
The most significant Supreme Court intervention is in relation to the campaign by the right-wing opposition for a referendum to recall Chavez. The opposition claims to have collected around 3 million signatures calling for such a referendum. Venezuela's constitution states that once a president has served half their term, they must face a referendum if 20% of the voters demand one.
However, the government charges that the opposition's petition is invalid because they were collected before the mid-point of Chavez's term in office (which was August 19). The government also accuses the opposition of using fraudulent measures to obtain signatures.
Because of opposition delaying tactics in the National Assembly (Venezuela's parliament), a new National Electoral Council (CNE), the body that must decide whether the signatures are valid and oversee any referendum, has yet to be appointed. The Supreme Court announced on August 15 that it would step in and name the CNE's new members.
The opposition welcomed the court's unilateral intervention. The Chavez government rejected it as undemocratic but accepted the decision. It then announced a mass mobilisation for August 23 to celebrate the "Bolivarian revolution".
On August 19, the right-wing opposition organised a pro-referendum mobilisation, which according to the August 22 Vheadline.com was attended by 100,000 people. Four days later, in a massive show of support for the Bolivarian revolution, around 500,000 filled the streets of Caracas, according to the Associated Press account.
Dawn Gable, a solidarity activist from the US, described the scene in the August 24 Vheadline.com: "As we approached the march, which had been in progress for hours already, we were awestruck by the sight... As far as the eye could see in any direction [there were] Chavistas of all colours and ages! We decided to go into the centre of the march route. We stood in the middle of the highway with four lanes on either side of us, filled with people marching, chanting, singing and playing music... I have seen CNN saying that the [August 19] opposition march was bigger ... that is a lie."
On August 25, the Supreme Court announced the new members of the CNE. According to the August 26 Vheadline.com, the virulently anti-Chavez newspaper El Universal is reporting that the "new CNE clearly favours the government". El Universal reported that Chavez government supporters have a slim majority on the body. However, opposition leaders have supported the composition of the council.
Francisco Carrasquero, the president of the new elections authority, promised on August 27 that the CNE will act "impartially [and be] objective, balanced and independent in all its actions", reported the August 28 Petroleumworld.com.
The US State Department on August 27 hailed the appointment of the new CNE as an "important and necessary step" in ending Venezuela's political crisis.
From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.
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