Venezuela’s newly-elected National Assembly was sworn in on January 5, ending five years of right-wing opposition control of the country’s legislative power.
During this time, opposition deputies used parliament to establish a parallel government and call for military coups, foreign intervention and economic sanctions, in its attempts to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.
With a majority of the opposition opting to boycott the December 6 National Assembly elections, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won more than 67% of the vote. It now has a huge majority inside parliament which has expanded from 177 to 277 deputies.
Due to this expansion, a number of new deputies, many of them grassroots revolutionaries, will be entering parliament for the first time.
One of them is Melitza Orellana, who started her activism as a high school student in 1999, the year Hugo Chavez assumed the presidency for the first time. Since then, Orellana has worked closely with the country’s campesino movement and been heavily involved in promoting community councils and communes as expressions of radical local democracy.
Orellana is also a leader of the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ), which operates as a public tendency within the PSUV. She spoke to Green Left’s Federico Fuentes about the elections and her vision for the new National Assembly.
Could you tell us a bit about the context in which the recent National Assembly elections were held and your assessment of the campaign and result?
The Venezuelan elections took place amid a very difficult economic situation given the devastating impacts of the trade, oil and financial blockade imposed on our nation by the political and economic elites of the United States and the European Union.
It was also held in the middle of a global pandemic that has also affected Venezuela, particularly in the border regions. I live in the state of Apure, in Guasdualito, which is about 20 minutes from Arauca, in Colombia. Because of our location, we have received many Venezuelans returning due to the impact of the pandemic in neighbouring countries.
As a result of the election, we have a new National Assembly that will replace the National Assembly elected in 2015 and whose constitutional mandate has expired.
In terms of the result, there was a participation rate of about 32%. Clearly there was an important level of abstention by a part of the electorate.
But it is also important to highlight the fact that the hardcore vote for Chavismo remained firm. This was seen in the votes for the PSUV and its allies. The hardcore of Chavismo came out to vote, to exercise its sovereignty via the vote. That was important both in terms of the level of participation and legitimacy of this electoral process.
As an organisation that is active inside the PSUV, the CRBZ participated in this electoral process as PSUV supporters and candidates.
In Apure, we had a comrade who was elected to the previous National Assembly, Orlando Zambrano. This time, we elected another three CRBZ comrades, along with Zambrano, to the National Assembly. In contrast, the opposition were unable to win a single seat in Apure.
Our campaign was run within the framework of the official campaign but had its own characteristics. Our focus was on speaking with people face-to-face, in assemblies and by door-knocking residents.
Obviously, due to COVID-19, there were restrictions in place, but we were able to overcome this obstacle. It was an interesting process in Apure: we were able to generate a genuine sensation of an electoral campaign despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
All four of us are comrades who, for many years now, have been doing social-political work, organisational work, in the community. This gave us the capacity to campaign face-to-face with the people, even with all the limitations in place.
As a result, we achieved our objectives and demonstrated the strength that we have as a movement.
What was the political focus of your campaign?
We proposed the need to win back the National Assembly and convert it into a patriotic, ethical and democratic National Assembly.
We understood that, given the current national situation, it was necessary to reaffirm and defend the Bolivarian state in the face of the pretensions of the United States to delegitimise Venezuela as a failed state.
So we wanted to re-institutionalise the state, to recover one of the powers of the state, in this case the legislative power, which had been operating in an openly subversive manner, calling for war, for foreign intervention, for blockades, for sanctions.
On the international plane, we wanted to recover the National Assembly in order to strengthen integration and international relations with countries that have supported us against the blockade and open up new relations with other countries.
We also understood the need to isolate the ultra-right elements of the opposition, those that back [former National Assembly president] Juan Guaido [who called for a boycott of the elections and for the international community to not recognise the new National Assembly]. Recovering the National Assembly also meant strengthening the path of dialogue as a way to resolve the political differences that exist in Venezuela.
That is why we fundamentally focused on winning back control, on recuperating the National Assembly and converting it into a patriotic, ethical and democratic National Assembly. In this election, we achieved this goal.
What will be your priorities in parliament?
When we talk about a patriotic National Assembly, we believe the new National Assembly needs to defend Venezuela’s sovereignty, its national independence. Beyond any political differences that may exist within it, the National Assembly is an organ of the state and should take a position against the blockade.
At the same time, the new National Assembly has to work on laws to help the economy recover. When we talk about economic recovery, we are referring to a number of things, but one of the most important issues is recovering workers’ wages, recovering the purchasing power of Venezuelans, which has been annihilated as a result of the economic war against Venezuela.
When we talk about an ethical National Assembly, we are talking about the need to wage a struggle against corruption; that is one of our key focuses. Currently, we face extreme levels of corruption within the state, and that has a big impact on the situation. If we are honest and objective, we have to accept that the problem is not just the sanctions or blockade; there's a lot of corruption at different levels of the state.
We have a law against corruption in Venezuela, but we want to see how we can incorporate changes into this law to define corruption as an act of treason, as an act against the homeland, and be punished accordingly.
When we talk about a democratic National Assembly, we are referring to the need to promote and practice a radical kind of politics, a politics that is close to the people. We want to legislate with the purpose of deepening democracy.
We want to legislate with the people. We want the National Assembly to be the main national political forum in which all the various differences and ideas that exist in Venezuelan society are debated and where, based on a vision of a sovereign, ethical, productive and democratic country, an attempt is made to reach a patriotic, ethical and democratic consensus.
These are some of the challenges that we face.
The National Assembly is where we can develop and pass laws during the coming five-year legislative term, while continuing to participate in the struggles of our people, with our people, alongside our people, raising demands regarding rights we are yet to obtain and confronting challenges we still face as part of the revolutionary process we have undertaken in Venezuela.