Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution wins the battle, but is it losing the war?

President Nicolas Maduro celebrates with supporters in Caracas after winning the May 20 presidential election.

Even before Venezuela’s May 20 presidential vote had taken place, the United States —headed by a president who lost the popular vote in an electoral system that systematically disenfranchises millions of poor and non-white voters — rejected the elections as “neither free nor fair”.

The Lima Group, a coalition of 13 right-wing Latin American countries plus Canada, also refused to recognise the results. Among its members are:

  • Brazil, whose unelected president was installed in an unconstitutional parliamentary coup;
  • Honduras, which after a 2009 coup had its president re-elected last year, despite the constitution only allowing for single terms, in elections deemed so fraudulent that no head of state dared attend his inauguration;
  • Mexico, where close to 100 candidates, party officials or their relatives have been assassinated during the current presidential election campaign; and
  • Colombia, where the murder of political activists is an almost daily occurrence and candidates have had to pull out of the upcoming election due to death threats.

Canada, after denying Venezuelans their right to participate in these elections at the Venezuelan Embassy and consulates, said the vote was “anti-democratic”.

The corporate media simply echoed this message, without the slightest attempt to back up its claims of fraud.

They all refused to accept a basic, undeniable fact: that in the face of everything thrown at them — sanctions, threats of military intervention and boycott campaigns, to list just a few — more than 6.2 million Venezuelans voted for incumbent president Nicolas Maduro, thereby ensuring his victory with 67.8% of votes cast.

Legitimate criticisms can be made about some of the circumstances surrounding the elections — for example, the banning of certain candidates and parties and the misuse of state resources (criticisms that can be made about just about any elections, certainly in Latin America). However, no evidence has been presented to show the final vote count was fraudulent.

Even Maduro’s two main rivals, while criticising the overall process, have not questioned the final vote tally.

What’s more, a strong case can be made that had the main opposition parties decided not to boycott the elections and supported a single candidate, they would most likely have won. Even Maduro accepted as much in his election night victory speech.

But such an orderly transition is not what Venezuela’s opposition, starting with Washington, has its sights set on.

As talk of “military options”, coups and transitional governments become ever more public, it is clear that Venezuela’s enemies have no interest in democracy.

What’s more, they have no qualms in actively worsening an already dire situation to achieve their anti-democratic goal, as evidenced by the new round of sanctions imposed on Venezuela.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson admitted as much, saying of the new sanctions, “It’s very sad because obviously the downside of sanctions is that they can affect the population that you don’t want to suffer,” before adding, “things have got to get worse before they get better — and we may have to tighten the economic screw on Venezuela.”

What Maduro’s opponents seek is a scenario where they can eliminate all traces of the Bolivarian Revolution, the political project of Venezuela’s popular classes that has sought to empower the people and take the country in an anti-capitalist direction.

This would require more than just an electoral victory: it would require a thorough purge of the Venezuelan state and the denial of political rights to a large section of society that supports the revolutionary project, which remains the largest single force in politics.

In this sense, the attempts to delegitimise democratic elections are simply part of paving the way for an undemocratic, and almost certainly bloody, outcome.

Against this, the 6.2 million plus votes for Maduro shows that the Bolivarian Revolution continues to count upon an important social base of support. This social base was strong enough to win this electoral battle — but it is seemingly weakening in the face of the ongoing economic war being waged against it.

Maduro’s vote was not only down from Chavez’s 2012 vote of more than 8 million, it also represents a decline of almost 1.5 million votes from his own 2013 result. This decline is greater still if we consider that there are 1.6 million more enrolled voters today than in 2013. That is, the pro-revolution vote has fallen from 43.4% of the voting population to 30% in the past six years.

Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that many who voted for Maduro this time around may not be willing to do so again if the government doesn’t tackle the dire situation it has attributed to the economic war.  

Venezuelan intellectual Luis Britto Garcia, in an interview with LaIguana.TV on May 21, noted that Maduro had obtained an important victory. He said it dispelled the argument that the Bolivarian Revolution is simply a clientalist movement, given that despite all the hardships Venezuelans are facing they had voted for the revolution for a fourth time in a row in less than a year.

He added that the government now had “no excuses”, as these electoral victories had handed it control of a majority of governorships, mayoralties, the presidency and the National Constituent Assembly, which is entrusted with reforming the country’s constitution.

“So this is the moment for all these powers to implement the indispensable measures to confront the economic war that has caused so much damage to the Venezuelan people,” he said. The leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution “have in their hands an accumulation of power that obliges them to take urgent measures because the people cannot take it anymore”.

José González, a young supporter of the Bolivarian Revolution speaking to BBC Mundo before the elections put it more succinctly: “We will give [Maduro] a vote of confidence. If this doesn’t work, that is it … if the country does not improve the people will come out onto the streets”.

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