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Chavez On The Offensive
I t is one of life’s little ironies that the impending reopening of that symbol of American capitalism, McDonalds, which is still on “strike” against the Venezuelan government, will be hailed as a victory for President Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. But perhaps we should not be too surprised. This is, after all, the country where everything seems the wrong way round and language is being continually reinvented. In Venezuela, the word “democracy” has come to mean the overthrow of the elected president. Bosses organize the strikes and corrupt union leaders complain about the government defending workers’ legal rights. The military, armed with cement mixers and bricks, invades shantytowns to build houses, not to destroy them. In the midst of this struggle, Hugo Chavez is busy banging the last nails into the coffin of a collapsing two-month-old strike of managers in the state-owned oil company, the PDVSA. The strike is a showdown between the right-wing opposition and the government over the control of the country’s vast oil reserves, which provide Venezuela with two-thirds of its export earnings. Wresting control of the PDVSA from the old pro-American management, who had run it as a personal fiefdom and favored privatization, is seen as pivotal to Chavez’s ability to deliver on his promises of homes, health, and education for the poor. Just as the failure of April’s coup allowed Chavez to purge the military of right-wing generals, the slow defeat of the strike in the PDVSA, has provided Chavez with the opportunity to dismiss 5,000 anti-government executives and saboteurs, and press ahead with the long overdue reform.
Thus far, the Venezuelan opposition’s tactics bear a remarkable similarity to those that successfully overthrew Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in 1973 and that led to Michael Manley’s defeat at the ballot box in Jamaica in 1980.
In each case, there was a sustained and organized attack on the legitimacy of the government led by the big business-owned media monopoly. Each of the country’s leaders was subjected to a campaign of character assassination and labeled a tyrant, a liar, and an incompetent. The government was declared “undemocratic” and “Communist” and lies and misrepresentations abounded. In turn, this created an atmosphere in which political violence would be seen as aimed not at the destruction of democracy, but at its preservation. Economic destabilization then followed, which included the flight of capital abroad.
In all three cases, the government was accused of taking orders from Fidel Castro and of hiding thousands of Cuban troops in the country. Each leader was also accused of arming terrorists. In Allende’s case, it was communist guerrillas. In Manley’s case, the PLO. In Chavez’s case, FARC and al Qaeda. In Chile, the coup was preceded by an employers’ strike. In Jamaica, Manley’s election defeat was preceded by an employers’ strike. In Venezuela, last April’s coup was preceded by an employers’ strike.
A t the time the United States issued categorical denials that the CIA was behind the destabilization and coups or had ever financed and advised government opponents. They later admitted their intimate involvement in the Chilean coup, but only after the evidence became so overwhelming it couldn’t be denied. Chavez has learned the lessons of Chile and Jamaica. First, he has secured his base in the military, making another coup attempt a near impossibility. Second, he has set up over 130,000 grass-roots neighborhood organizations in the slums, called Bolivarian Circles. These are self-help groups of between 7 and 13 persons, which represent and organize the local population and act as a communication channel between the populace and the government. The opposition claims that it is heavily armed. Third, providing the government defeats the oil executives strike, Chavez will have access to a steady and reliable source of hard currency revenue with which he can continue to finance social programs for the working class and poor.
The opposition’s media monopoly, which includes three of the four TV stations and all the national papers, remains Chavez’s biggest obstacle and the opposition’s greatest strength. Recently legal documents were served on the private TV stations, threatening them with closure if they continued to undermine the constitutional legitimacy of the government and participate in attempts to overthrow it. The opposition, having played the cards of military coup and economic destabili- zation, are looking increasingly boxed in. The United States, currently preoccupied with the Middle East and still smarting from the embarrassment of having recognized last April’s short-lived coup, has been forced to declare that it wouldn’t recognize another dictatorship or directly intervene.
Provided that remains the U.S. position, the opposition is left with elections as the only viable means of unseating Chavez. Under the Constitution, a binding referendum on Chavez’s presidency may be held in August, which is the mid point of his six-year term. However, the opposition must first collect the verified signatures of at least 20 percent of registered electors. To unseat the president, the opposition must not only win the referendum, but also attract a larger number of actual votes than Chavez received when he was elected in 2000 with 56 percent support. The opposition is not confident they can reach this target, hence their strategy to force out the president by alternative means. Their problems are further compounded by internal division and lack of a clear position. Some leaders are calling for an end to the crumbling business strike, others are calling for it to be strengthened. A group of disgraced former army generals is demanding the assassination of the president, while more moderate voices are calling for negotiations.
In public, the “opposition” is trying to put on a brave face. They point to opinion polls that allegedly show a majority against the government. But opinion polls, even legitimate ones—which the Venezuelan versions are not—often understate the support for an incumbent President because voters are more inclined to express their dissatisfaction when the choice is abstract. The battle for public opinion appears to be moving in the Chavez government’s favor. In January, up to a million mainly indigenous Venezuelans from the city slums and the countryside marched through the capital, Caracas, in a huge show of support for the government. The opposition’s counter demonstration, held a few days later, attracted only about 70,000 mostly white middle class people. This was significantly down on previous figures .
Opposition leaders are now admitting that they are facing a backlash from workers, particularly from those who have lost their jobs as a result of bankruptcies brought about by the business strike. At the gas stations, irate motorists queuing for scarce petrol are no longer heard blaming the government for the shortages. In some parts of the country, car stickers are appearing, saying, “Opposition supporter turned Chavista.”
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.