A massive march and rally in Caracas by supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution on Sunday marked the beginning of the campaign for the recall referendum in Venezuela. This came after the announcement on Thursday, June 3, by the National Electoral Council (CNE), that the opposition had collected enough signatures to trigger the presidential recall referendum. On the same day, president Chavez accepted the decision and called on revolutionaries to wage what he described as the “Santa Ines” Battle and soundly defeat the counter-revolutionaries in the recall referendum.
The decision by the CNE had caused a lot of anger amongst the Bolivarian masses, as we reported in a previous article (Venezuela: Bolivarian masses anger at referendum decision). They rightly felt that widespread fraud had taken place and that under these conditions the referendum should not have been granted. There is plenty of evidence of fraud on the part of the opposition and we think it is worth explaining once again the whole process which has led to the recall referendum.
First of all, in December, the opposition said they had collected 3.8 million signatures. This figure is important since it is just above the 3.75 million votes Chavez got when he was re-elected in 2000 and it would mean that the opposition would be able not only to trigger a recall referendum, but also to win it (to recall the president they need not only to win the referendum but also to do it with more votes than the number he got when elected). When the opposition, finally and after a long delay, handed in the signatures to the National Electoral Commission, there were only 3.4 million, thus 400,000 signatures disappeared "mysteriously". The National Electoral Council ruled on March 2nd, 2003 that 876,017 signatures had to be revalidated due to the fact that entire signature sheets seem to have been filled in with similar calligraphy ("planillas planas"). Another 143,930 signatures were rejected due to signers not being registered to vote, being minors, foreigners or not authorized to vote. 233,573 signatures were invalidated for other irregularities, including ID number or name not coinciding with each other, amendments made to the forms, removal or alteration of security features in the forms such as serial numbers. Some of these rejected signatures were later added to the revalidation process bringing the number of signatures that had to be revalidated to nearly 1.2 million.
Therefore it is clear that there was widespread fraud in the original process of the signature collection. The opposition protested against this decision by the CNE and called for civil disobedience and organised burning street barricades, defended with Molotov cocktails and firearms (including rifles). At the same time opposition groups, in connivance with opposition-controlled police forces tried to organise provocations in working class and poor neighbourhoods in the capital. In El Valle they closed the main road and fired on the offices of the Popular Revolutionary Assembly. In El Paraiso they fired on the offices of the recently created National Union of Workers (UNT) and offices of the MVR and the PPT (two Bolivarian parties, part of the current government) were assaulted and set on fire (with one MVR activist dying as a result). It was clear that for the opposition, legal means (ie the recall referendum) were just part of a wider campaign including the use of undemocratic, illegal and violent means. Also these well orchestrated riots (la guarimba) show that they knew it would be very difficult for them to get the necessary signatures re-verified.
During the re-verification process, about ten days ago there were also plenty of irregularities. These were reported in detail in an excellent article by Gregory Wilpert and Martin Sanchez (Venezuela’s Signature Re-certification Ends Without Major Incident but with Many Minor Ones), amongst which are the fact that thousands of forged ID cards and materials to make them were found in Accion Democratica offices in several parts of the country, workers who were threatened into verifying their signatures, and deceased people appearing not having been removed from the electoral register. Clear proof of electoral fraud is the fact that nearly 74,000 people whose "signatures" "appeared" in the original sheets, went to declare they had never signed (amongst these there are workers who had been coerced to sign by their employers, and also some who might have changed their mind since December). Further to this, CNE member Jorge Rodriguez announced that between 15,000 and 50,000 people who had died had not been removed from the electoral register that was being used for the re-verification process, despite the fact that this information had been sent by the competent bodies to the Electoral Register Commission. This figure by the way coincides with the 15,000 signatures that the opposition has allegedly collected over the necessary 2.4 million.
As an aside, on Friday, June 9, several dozen people disguised as “deceased” protested outside the CNE building, demanding to be taken out of the electoral register. Some of them declared “we want to be left to rest in peace”(see http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=2&t=5970)
Further to this, when the CNE made its final ruling on the recall referendum, CNE member Oscar Batagglini, refused to vote in favour since he said that the results were “spurious” and the whole process could not be considered as being “transparent”. Amongst the irregularities he denounced were: “participation in the verification process of deceased people, minors, foreigners, citizens with restricted rights, people with contested ID cards, people with more than one ID card, validation of signatures verified in electoral districts other than the one where the person is registered, cloning of ID cards in order to forge identity and forging of verification sheets”. He added that the international observers from the Carter Centre and the Organisation of American States “had not acted in an impartial way” and “were biased” in favour of the opposition. He also denounced two CNE members Ezequiel Zamora and Sobella Mejias for having acted in conjunction with opposition spokespersons to ratify what was being “decided behind closed curtains”.
The main argument of the rank and file Bolivarian organisations last week was precisely that since there had been widespread fraud there should have been no referendum. But it is also clear that once the decision had been announced by the CNE and accepted by the president the main task was to organise the revolutionary forces to win the referendum.
The question of leadership
The Comando Ayacucho became the main target of the criticism of the workers’ and peoples’ organisations. This was a body that had not been elected by the rank and file of the revolutionary movement and was composed of the leading figures of the main parties in government. The Comando was in charge of the whole recall process and showed its complete inability at every step of the process. Angry resolutions from Bolivarian organisations last week demanded that it be disbanded.
On Friday there was a national meeting of the April 13th Movement together with the Popular Bolivarian Movement, Organised Communities from Western Caracas and some other revolutionary and peoples’ organisations to discuss the whole issue of the recall referendum where a resolution was passed (http://www.aporrea.org/dameletra.php?docid=8461). Amongst other things the resolution calls for “peaceful street actions to show the anger of the Venezuelan people faced with the vulgar fraud carried out by the opposition and through imperialist intervention, but also against the negotiation or incapacity of the leaders of the Comando Ayacucho”. The resolution also calls for the formation of Bolivarian Peoples’ Commands in every neighbourhood, school, factory and workplace and addresses the need for a democratically elected leadership of the revolutionary process by calling for a “national assembly of workers’ and peoples’ organisations where we will elect the men and women who, as proven social and revolutionary leaders, we want to place next to the president in order to fight this coming battle”.
There is a strong feeling amongst the revolutionary masses that president Chavez is surrounded by a ring of steel of inept and reformist leaders and there is a real desire for the wishes of the revolutionary people to be conveyed to Chavez directly. When Chavez addressed the masses on Thursday, when he announced that he accepted the CNE decision to trigger the referendum, he did not do so from the platform that had been placed outside the presidential palace, but from a TV studio within the palace, and his speech was relayed to the masses gathered outside through a massive video screen. There might be a number of reasonable explanations for this, and some were given: security, the need to broadcast the speech on national TV, etc. But some in the crowd immediately drew the conclusion that “they have kidnapped the president”, “they do not want the president to know what the people think”.
In fact when Chavez addressed the mass rally on Sunday and asked the people to “thank the Comando Ayacucho for its hard work”, no one moved a hand to clap, there was an uneasy silence and a part of the crowd actually booed the mention of the infamous Comando “Hablamucho” (“Talks too much”) as it has become known by the people. After this Chavez announced that the leadership of this new battle for the referendum was going to be in the hands of a new Comando Maisanta (named after a peasant guerrilla leader from the 19th century), thus effectively dismissing the Comando Ayacucho.
Balance of forces
It will be almost impossible for the opposition to win the recall referendum. From a purely technical point of view they need to get more than the 3.75 million votes that Chavez got when re-elected in 2000 and at the same time get more votes in favour of recall than against. When trying to trigger the recall referendum they used all sorts of tricks and fraud and they could barely get 2 million signatures.
The social plans of the Chavez government, giving access to health care and education to millions of people for the first time, have actually increased the support for the revolutionary process. A good measure of the balance of forces is the participation at the demonstrations at the weekend. The opposition demonstration on Saturday had in its favour the fact that they could claim a victory since they had managed to trigger the recall referendum. This was certainly one of the largest opposition marches in the last period, but attendance was nowhere near the hundreds of thousands that reaction could gather in the streets at the time of the bosses lockout in December 2002. According to Reuters there were only 60,000 on the opposition demonstration.
On the other hand the revolutionary demonstration on Sunday, which had been called under the slogan of “Against Fraud, to win the Battle of Santa Ines”, was once again a demonstration of the revolutionary will of the Venezuelan people. Hundreds of thousands (according to Reuters) marched through the main streets of the capital in three different columns to finally rally in Bolivar avenue, in what was one of the biggest demonstrations since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution. The overflowing red human river can be seen in a series of extremely impressive pics published in the revolutionary website Aporrea (http://www.aporrea.org/dameverbo.php?docid=17290, http://www.aporrea.org/dameverbo.php?docid=17281,
Once again, as many times during the revolutionary process, the threat of counter-revolution, this time in the form of a recall referendum and the massive fraud used to achieve it, has galvanised the revolutionary spirit of the masses. But at the same time the mood is very critical and many lessons have been learnt. The most important of this is the need for the masses of the workers and the people to participate directly and through democratic structures in the organisation of this battle and in the revolutionary process in general. In revolutionary meetings and assemblies taking place at the beginning of this week there was a general sense of enthusiasm and willingness to fight this battle. Chavez called for the formation of patriotic Comandos in every neighbourhood and block to fight this battle of Santa Ines. The leader of the peasant war Ezequiel Zamora fought the Santa Ines battle in December 1859. He used some very clever tactics; by pretending to have been defeated he withdrew and managed to lure the forces of the oligarchy into a trap where they were soundly routed.
The whole thinking behind accepting the recall referendum in these conditions, where it is clear that massive fraud has taken place, is so that the president can be legitimised in a democratic way and thus the campaign of bourgeois public opinion nationally and internationally of branding Chavez as an authoritarian dictator can be defeated. However, no amount of electoral victories will stop the campaign of lies and slanders against the revolution on the part of the oligarchy and imperialism. In fact Chavez has already won 5 electoral processes in the last 5 years.
Since the opposition cannot win a recall referendum in a clean and democratic confrontation they will resort to a campaign of dirty tricks, intimidation, international pressure, etc. This campaign has already started. The day after Chavez announced he accepted the CNE decision on the referendum, Peter DeShazo, the Undersecretary of State of the US for the Western Hemisphere, announced that the US would only recognise the results of a referendum if this took place in “free and fair conditions” and in an environment “free of intimidation and violence”. Since all the violence for the last 5 years has come from the side of counter-revolution, this is clearly preparing the ground for the opposition to not recognise a defeat in the referendum. If anyone thought that the opposition was going to concentrate exclusively on trying to win the referendum, they are clearly mistaken. Their main aim in the next few weeks will be to create a mood of chaos, violence, and economic sabotage so that they can eventually say the referendum was not free, there was intimidation against the opposition, vote rigging on the part of the government, etc.
This will be combined with a continuation of the provocations on the border with Colombia, in the attempt to brand the Venezuelan government as “terrorist” or “supportive of terrorism”. This week the Colombian government has presented a number of ELN guerrilla “defectors” who claim they can prove that army officers from the Venezuelan Armed Forces are providing weapons to the Colombian guerrillas. This is quite clearly a fabrication and it is aimed to justify, at a certain point, international military intervention against the revolution in Venezuela.
For this reason it is important that the campaign around the referendum is used not only to win the referendum, but above all to create structures of workers’ and peoples’ power which can then take the revolution forward. Commandos are already being set up in factories, neighbourhoods and workplaces. These should be coordinated through a structure of elected and recallable delegates at local, state and national levels. These would provide the basic units for a new type of democracy, a workers’ democracy which could do away with all that remains of the old bourgeois state which is sabotaging the revolutionary process at all levels. At the same time, the revolution must take defensive measures against the oligarchy and imperialism by wrestling away the levers of economic power from them that they use to sabotage the economy. The banks and monopolies, starting with those owned by known conspirators, should be nationalised under workers’ and peoples’ control and their resources used to satisfy the basic needs of the people and finance the social reform plans in the fields of education, health, job creation, land reform etc. And in order to defend effectively the gains and advancement of the revolution these organisations of the workers and the people must also be armed, as Chavez himself has already called for.
Imperialism cannot allow the Venezuelan revolution to continue any longer. They have made repeated attempts to put a bloody end to it and they have been soundly defeated by the revolutionary élan of the workers and the people. As far as the interests of imperialism are concerned, this has now become a very dangerous example in Latin America. It shows to the Latin American masses that the power of US imperialism can be defied. This lesson has fallen on fertile ground in the whole of the continent. This is what makes it so urgent for Washington to put an end to the revolution by any means necessary. There is no way to appease imperialism and the oligarchy with concessions or negotiations. The only way forward for the revolution is to take decisive steps to strengthen it, to do away with the levers of power still in the hands of the oligarchy, and for the workers and the people to arm themselves to defend it.