Venezuela: Solidarity needed to defend democracy

United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) offices torched in aftermath of April 14 elections, narrowly won by PSUV candidate Ni

As the Venezuelan opposition is emboldened by chaos on the streets, reactionary propaganda on the private airwaves that still dominate Venezuela's media landscape and firm support from Washington, now is the time for the international left to galvanise support for the Bolivarian revolution.

Under the false pretext of electoral fraud, the right-wing opposition leader Henrique Capriles tried for a power grab after losing presidential elections on April 14, threatening to destabilise the country.

United Socialist Party of Venezuela candidate Nicolas Maduro, who late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez named as his preferred successor, won the elections by just 1.8%.

In response, Capriles demanded a manual recount, despite it being impossible in Venezuela's electoral system and an electronic audit of 54% of the vote revealing no problems with the vote.

Describing Maduro's victory as “illegitimate”, Capriles has said that the opposition will “not ... recognise the result until we recount every vote”.

Late on April 18, the opposition and National Electoral Council (CNE) agreed to a full audit of all votes, though a total manual recount remains out of the question. The compromise came after days of violent protests and an opposition campaign to discredit the CNE and the government.

On April 19, Maduro was sworn in as president. Maduro pledged to “build an independent, free and socialist nation for all” and carry out a “revolution within the revolution” to solve problems such as sabotage, crime, corruption and inefficiency. He said his government had set itself the goal of “zero poverty” by the end of his term in 2019, through an expansion of the government's pro-poor social missions.

Maduro also denounced opposition violence and called for peace. However, he also said to those who voted against him: “I stretch out my hand to you. We guarantee peace in this country.”

False evidence

On April 16, Capriles presented his “evidence” of electoral fraud to the media, arguing that opposition observers were forced out of voting centres at gunpoint, while ballot boxes were stuffed and tens of thousands of votes falsified.

Not a single international observer has supported Capriles' astounding claims. A statement from the South American trading bloc Mercosur's delegation said: “All guarantees were provided so that Sunday’s elections were a success.”

Not only did the Mercosur delegation find that “there was ample liberty for all candidates”, but the statement described the entire electoral process as transparent and secure.

“[I]t is also important to emphasise that the whole electoral system consists of 17 audits, including software, data, fingerprints, the production of voting machines etc.”

Green Left Weekly visited a several voting centres and observed what appeared to be a peaceful process.

There were no signs of disturbances, let alone the mass removal of observers, as Capriles claimed occurred all over the nation.

Moreover, there have been no reports so far from CNE workers of intimidation or fraud.

Venezuela Analysis reported on April 17: “No evidence was provided for this claim, and no independent reports of this happening were registered by any major media outlets on the day of the elections.”

The article noted: “The nature of Venezuela’s electoral system makes the kind of fraud alleged by Capriles nearly impossible.

“Witnesses from both sides are present at every voting centre around the country, and a random hot audit of 54 percent of the votes is conducted at all of the centres in the presence of all witnesses immediately after the polls close.”

Latin America observer James Petras told the Russian Times: “There were 100 outside international observers clearly recognised as objective judges who observed the election process, observed the voting, and observed the counting.

“It's a misnomer to say that this was a questionable election.”

Despite the lack of evidence of any electoral fraud, mass opposition demonstrations have taken place across the country, with some turning violent.

At the time of writing, state media outlet AVN had reported at least eight people — said by the government to be supporters of the revolution — had been killed and many more injured.

International media

Capriles is not the only one lying through his teeth. The international media have largely sided with opposition protesters; in some cases providing blatantly skewed coverage.

An April 17 Associated Press report stated that a “number of opposition protests across Venezuela have turned violent, but apparently only after National Guard riot troops and police used tear gas and plastic pellets to turn back marchers converging on provincial offices of the electoral council”.

This account does not fit with scenes of violence observed by Green Left outside Merida's CNE offices on April 15.

Green Left witnessed many opposition protesters arriving outside the CNE offices with explosives and blunt weapons including metal rods and baseball bats.

In the afternoon, opposition protesters clashed with government supporters in side streets, hurling stones, Molotov cocktails and fireworks.

As riot police moved in on the clashes, some protesters dropped their weapons, but others moved to different streets to continue fighting.

While trying to quell violence, police and military personnel made no attempt to disperse the opposition protest, let alone incite violence. Most weren't armed with anything more than a riot shield.

Capriles' aims

“I think [the opposition] is trying to sabotage the government. They're not engaging in a peaceful protest,” Petras told RT. “They're not raising legitimate questions.”

Capriles' original demands for a full manual recount were impossible. Due to the high level of automation, the Venezuelan electoral system does not allow for a manual “vote by vote” count. All votes can be audited by comparing voting receipts with electronic tallies, but a complete count by hand is impossible, high court chief Luisa Estella Morales said.

Though the Supreme Court threw out the opposition's appeal for a recount, Capriles continued to push his demands, resulting in the April 18 compromise.

In the days leading up to the deal between the opposition and CNE, Venezuelan media reported that opposition protesters attacked medical clinics, food distribution centres, state housing and even a preschool. An April 16 Havana Times article indicated that Cuban doctors are also targets of opposition violence.

Cuban doctors have been crucial to Venezuela's drive to provide comprehensive, free health care. Many receive low wages, and provide health care even in some of Venezuela's roughest neighbourhoods.

At opposition rallies, however, protesters have been calling for their immediate eviction, often labelling the doctors as agents of “Castro-communism”.

In Merida, the opposition have also attacked journalists, and reportedly set up ambush sites to attack Chavistas. There are reports some Chavistas have responded by targeting opposition-aligned businesses and attacking both armed and unarmed opposition protesters.

On April 17, Vice-President Jorge Arreaza tweeted that Chavistas must not respond to “provocations”. “We reaffirm our commitment to peace ... and equality,” he tweeted.

In a televised announced, Maduro said that to counter the daily opposition demonstrations, in a public announcement on national television Maduro urged Chavistas to respond with “love, music, and happiness”.

He urged Chavistas to maintain a constant peaceful street presence and mobilisation in plazas.

Starting on April 22, Maduro and other government officials would start a “street parliament”, and embark on a national tour to visit communities and hear their grievances.

Despite efforts from the government to restore peace, there was a creeping fear of political instability. Now that a deal has been reached by the CNE and opposition, there is a chance the situation may de-escalate, though at the time of writing the situation remained tense.

There have been rumours of a replay of the 2002 coup, when a cabal of business leaders and right-wing military generals overthrew Chavez and seized power for 48 hours before a popular uprising of the poor restored democracy.

Indeed, Capriles played a role in the coup. The government says Capriles was involved in a terrorist attack on the Cuban embassy in 2002.

US intervenes

Almost all of Latin America is standing behind Venezuela's democracy, but the US is openly backing the opposition. While most Latin American governments have recognised Maduro as the elected president, the US publicly backed Capriles' campaign for a manual recount.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said on April 16: “I'm convinced … that the United States is preparing a coup in Venezuela.

“This is a way of throwing [Venezuela] into upheaval, to create democratic and political instability and later justify an intervention.”

In the White House, the opposition has a steadfast ally, willing to pour millions of dollars into not only opposition parties, but violent anti-government groups and the right-wing propaganda machine.

The Bolivarian revolution is now facing what may be its greatest challenge since the coup attempt and months-long bosses-lock in 2002.

The revolution, which has lowered poverty and empowered the poor, is an imperfect process. There is corruption, inefficiency and other weaknesses. It doesn't live up to the expectations of dogma either.

Uniquely Venezuelan in character, its haphazard development has been shaped by domestic needs and external pressures.

However, its most striking feature is a persistent, informed sense of hope. The revolution has educated, fed and inspired the poor, giving them the ability to be the creators of a future free from poverty and capitalist exploitation.

If Capriles and his US allies succeed in destabilising Venezuela, then 14 years of struggle will be in imperilled by the real threat of counter-revolution.

Solidarity needed

Amid increasingly open US intervention, the international left needs to defend the Bolivarian revolution from the campaign of lies and hate.

Don't let Venezuela's revolutionaries fight alone. As Che Guevara once said: “We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, because a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory, just as any country's defeat is a defeat for all of us.”

[Ryan Mallett-Outtrim is a Green Left Weekly journalist living in Merida. Visit the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network website for Australian solidarity actions and details of how to get involved.]