The fourth national congress of Venezuela’s largest political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), wound up on July 30 following three days of intense activities. The congress was inaugurated on July 28, on the 64th birthday of the party’s late founder, Hugo Chavez.
The PSUV congress took place in an increasingly complicated context, amidst a collapsing economy, hyperinflation, international financial sanctions and an upcoming monetary reconversion.
Furthermore, during the past month, grassroots Chavista (pro-Chavez) groups have been pressuring the government through protest actions, such as an on-going public sector nurses’ strike, a workplace slowdown by electrical workers and a campesino protest march which reached the capital, Caracas, on August 1.
The 670 delegates to the PSUV congress discussed key topics including modifying currency controls, the sustainability of state subsidies — especially on petrol — and a productive restructuring of state-run industries
A fierce debate on how to solve Venezuela's economic problems occurred between the various tendencies within the PSUV, with party leader and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro calling for “self-criticism”. In theory, the congress is an opportunity for grassroots movements to discuss day-to-day conditions with high ranking PSUV leaders, who many accuse of being out of touch with such realities.
Some, but not all, of the PSUV leaders have adopted Maduro’s call for self-criticism, opening the way for constructive debate on ways to improve the government’s effectiveness.
For example, PSUV leader Freddy Bernal controversially challenged the official discourse that blames a Washington-led economic war for the majority of the current problems. “We are nineteen years into a revolution, only we are responsible for the good and the bad,” he said.
During the congress, numerous leading PSUV members voiced their opinions via Twitter.
Prisons minister Iris Varela tweeted: “An increase in petrol prices is necessary, as is a direct subsidy only for those who need it, enough of financing the parasitic oligarchy and the smugglers, no more free petrol for [right wing politician] Maria Corina [Machado], [leading Venezuelan industrialist] Lorenzo Mendoza.”
Vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz argued in favour of communities and communes assuming more power, stating that “a communal state should emerge from this congress.”
Numerous workgroups held over the weekend gave a framework to the debate, whose results were channelled into a July 30 plenary session in which Maduro was re-elected as party president.
During the session, Maduro announced that a definitive final session would take place in a month’s time to allow the party’s grassroots to debate the final documents that will be approved.
The congress delegates were selected from the 14,000 party cells — the Bolivar-Chavez Battle Units (UBCh) — with public office holders barred from participating as delegates. Many of the PSUV mayors and governors did, however, participate as invited guests.
According to pre-congress documents, all delegates had to be “socialists, Bolivarians, chavistas, anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, humanists, environmentalists, and feminists.”
The congress’s delegate selection process was mostly uneventful, but there were a few localised complaints.
For example, alleged irregularities took place in El Vigia, Merida state, where the UBCh claim a top-down imposition by local PSUV leader Rodolfo Zerpa forced the replacement of the elected communal activist Edith Guerrero.
Maduro invited representatives from his Venezuelan allies in the Chavista Great Patriotic Pole, but it is unclear whether they took up his invitation. Nevertheless, the president affirmed that ideas from outside the PSUV are being considered.
“The Communist Party propose that we nationalise in a revolutionary way parts of the country’s economy and this hasn’t been rejected but rather is under evaluation,” he explained.
The PSUV’s congress took place as the Admirable March of discontented Chavista campesinos was approaching Caracas, having nearly completed its planned 435-kilometre route. The march aims to draw the president’s attention to grave problems in the countryside.
The march has drawn wide-reaching support from left-wing grassroots movements and political parties including the Communist Party and the Tupamaros. By contrast, only individual members of the PSUV have voiced support for it.
Pressure is rising on Maduro to personally receive the marchers and listen to their proposals, but he has yet to commit himself. Nevertheless, Maduro did mention the march at the opening of the congress, emphasising that “the strength of the campesino bloc needs to build itself around a productive plan.”
Both Varela and Education Minister Elias Jaua added their support to the campesinos over the weekend of the party congress, with Varela tweeting: “As a member of the national leadership of the PSUV, I ask congress to receive the campesino march which has been marching for numerous days towards Caracas and which brings important proposals which we should all listen to and act upon.”
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]