Zero hour in Venezuela ahead of Constituent Assembly vote

A rally in Caracas on July 27 in support of the Constituent Assembly elections.
July 29, 2017

Venezuelans are set to vote for a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) on July 30. Proposed by the government as a way to find a peaceful and democratic solution to months of political turmoil in the country, the ANC has been rejected by the opposition, who have pledged to stop the vote going ahead.

The opposition is instead calling for the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro and the formation of a transition government under its control. They took the first steps in this direction on July 19, releasing plans for a new “unity government”.

The opposition’s plan for regime change has received increasingly public support from Washington. On July 17, President Donald Trump threatened Venezuela, stating: "If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions."

On July 26, a range of sanctions were imposed on 13 Venezuelan state officials. CIA director Mike Pompeo said in an interview on July 25 that the US was “very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela”.

Below, Marco Teruggi writes from Caracas on the significance of the recent moves by the opposition and Trump and the balance of play in Venezuela in the lead up to the all-important July 30 vote.

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Venezuela’s opposition senses that they are near the finishing line.

US President Donald Trump has publicly threatened economic sanctions if the government goes ahead with the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections on July 30. The secretary general of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro personally went to the US Senate to talk about the crisis in Venezuela.

They have present their own "fact", but without any proof — they burnt the ballot boxes, the claimed 7,676,894 votes in their July 16 consultation. The international media plays them up, defends them, legitimises every action they take.

They feel their time is now; they are almost there.

Five fronts

So they advance, in what they have dubbed “zero hour”. They push forward on five fronts.

In the political sphere they have set up a parallel government. On July 21, the National Assembly swore in its own magistrates to the Supreme Court. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has announced it will elect a president for its “unity government” through primaries. They have already presented the main platform points for the new government.

In terms of violence, they are attempting to combine different methods, along with new ones. Some of these are already known: setting people alight; cutting off all access to opposition areas; using shock troops to carry out incursions into popular zones; laying siege to public institutions, hospitals, TV channels; launching mortars and firebombs; using firearms against state security forces and barracks; threatening and assassinating Chavistas; attacking food distribution channels.

The new methods, or that are now public, include: the use of assault weapons, such as R15 rifles, carried in broad daylight in various places. It is not difficult to predict a rise in military-style attacks. The focal points are spreading across the country: Valencia, Barquisimeto, San Cristobal, Caracas, Miranda, Merida.

At the international level, the US has assumed responsibility for the offensive in a very public manner. Its allied and subordinate governments amplify and support its position. The message is clear: they will move ahead with economic sanctions.

One hypothesis is that they will officially not recognise the government once the ANC begins meeting and will instead recognise the parallel government of the right as the governing authority in Venezuela. What material form would this support take? Possibly economic, military and diplomatic.

In the media, the campaign is absolute. The media discourse not only legitimises all the violence that has been unleashed, presenting it as just, epic and necessary, it also deliberately disregards Chavismo’s existence.

July 16 was a clear demonstration of this: the election dry run held by the government in the lead up to the July 30 elections did not exist for the media. It was simply ignored, particularly at the international level. Only the opposition’s illegal and clearly manipulated consultation was covered.

In the economic sphere the objective is to tighten into order to strangle. Trump’s announcement clearly indicates this, as do the attempts to block food imports destined for the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAPs).

The international economic pressure and the participation of the Federation of Chambers and Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela – the big capitalists – together with violent actions – burning of warehouses and trucks – are three principle lines of assault on the economy that are hurting the poorest sectors.

They are leaving no escape route. The strategy seeks to provoke a rupture.

Lack military or popular support

The equation, even in this context, does not give them the numbers they need.

Some Chavistas have joined them, such as the United Nations-based diplomat Isaias Medina. They join the not-very-long list of those that have turned their backs on Chavismo: the main ones being Attorney General Luisa Ortega and former minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres.

They also have the support of sections of the special investigative police force, CICPC, which has been working to arrest organised sectors within Chavismo.

These actors are now part of the historic bloc of the right, which is made up of political parties inside and outside the MUD; the Church hierarchy, which blesses the shock troops during mass; big capitalists; the oligarchy; the paramilitary forces that have been deployed throughout the country; the criminal gangs used for street violence; its historic social class base, which applauds every time they set someone alight; and an international network that extends from the US State Department through to Exxon Mobil.

More than three months after the start of this insurrectional phase, they do not have the support of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces or the popular sectors.

This does not mean that discontent does not exist in popular neighbourhoods, that there are no opposition supporters there who want the government to go, that no one is sick of waiting due to the lack of response to an economic situation that worsens, that no one voted in the July 16 consultation.

What we have not seen is a mobilisation by this sector in the protests called by the right. The class composition of the opposition protests remains the same, and the number of participants has not risen: because of the violence, its elitist leadership and the inexistence of a project that is not simply about removing the “dictatorship”, whatever it takes.

US imperialism

That is why they depend on the international front. This is the context for understanding the clear and public support given by the US to the opposition, the international encirclement.

The parallel government will have to gain legitimacy from outside the country, because within the country it does not have sufficient force to carry out real actions. At the moment, the only way they can achieve their objective of removing the government is via a direct intervention, whether camouflaged or more visible.

While the government has lost support among popular sectors — particularly because of the economic situation — it is also true that it continues to maintain important strength. This was shown on July 16: some sectors within Chavismo were surprised by the number of voters that turned up for the dry run.

The right denied it happened, although it took note: Chavismo is on its feet, conscious of the historic moment and place it occupies and of the need to resolve the conflict via democratic and participatory means.

This is not about triumphalism or thinking that what happened on July 16 is immovable.

The immediate objective for Chavismo is to get to July 30, legitimise the ANC with a high level of participation — the opposite would worsen the situation, and avoid scenes of mass destruction in cities, opposition military attacks and society descending into the kind of confrontation that the right wants.

It is a complex scenario, which requires intelligence, unity and organisation of Chavismo.

The right senses they are approaching the finishing line, but their numbers do not add up. It seems the conflict, given the variables, will be prolonged. The revolution is not up against the Venezuelan opposition leadership, it is up against US imperialism.

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