Interview with Hermann Albrecht of the Bolivarian University Front at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas.
How would you describe the policies of Chavez since he came to power?
First of all he introduced a new constitution that was discussed by the people and later on voted on and approved. It is a major breakthrough because it establishes the involvement of the people in all economic and political fields. For example within this new constitution people have the right to elect all government officials and they can also be revoked halfway through their mandate. But unfortunately it also limits the scope of the revolution since it accepts the concept of private property.
Another important feature is that apart from dividing the state into three parts, the executive power, the assembly and the judicial power, the new constitution has added the "moral power". The moral power is there to protect the people and regulates what the other parts of the state can do. Also this new constitution provides mechanisms which allow improvements or modifications of the constitution at any time. It also introduces the concept of local organisation committees and in all fields it allows and promotes the people's participation. But the essential fact is that since it protects private property, the economic policy of the constitution remains a reformist one and not a revolutionary one.
He also introduced 49 new laws in December 2001, such as the fishing law, the land reform, a law on the oil industry and one on a rail construction project. Thanks to this four underground networks are being built. The old underground in Caracas is being extended and new undergrounds are being built in Valencia, the main industrial city in Venezuela, and Maracaibo, the most important oil industry city. Also under construction is a railway that will connect Northern Brazil with the Caribbean Sea. This means a level of infrastructure and investments never seen before in Venezuela or even Latin America.
Does Chavez have the support of the working class?
As the sabotage of the oil industry showed last December when the workers took control of strategic refineries, most workers continue to support Chavez. Because of the fact that the old official oil workers' union went over to the counter-revolution during those events, there has now been a split in that union. During one of the bosses' lockouts the bureaucratic leadership at the top of that union told the workers that they should not collect their wages during the shutdown. They have also come out against measures decreed by the government that actually benefitted the workers. Because of this open betrayal a new trade union called the UNT has been formed. There has been massive support for this new union confederation among the workers and most small unions have now joined the UNT.
Can you briefly tell us about the two attempted coups that took place and how Chavez managed to survive them?
The April coup was preceded by an employers' lockout. On April 12 there was a demonstration held by the counterrevolution, supposedly in defence of the highly paid managers of our nationalised oil industry. But once the demonstration had started it changed its agreed route and moved towards the presidential palace.
Once they had managed to get the demonstration near to the palace they used those police forces under the control of "opposition" mayors and governors to fire at people near the palace. The press presented it as if Chavez's men had fired at the demonstration killing approximately 15 people. There was also a TV message from high-ranking oil industry officials who claimed that the killings had been carried out by Chavez's snipers. It was on these grounds that they called on the army to rise up against the government.
This was all done to create big confusion, and during the night Chavez was told he should resign or the presidential palace would be bombed. He refused to resign but at the same time he decided to put up no resistance to the military who arrested. He said he did this to avoid the bombings and further killings. Later on the media were reporting that Chavez had resigned and that he had been taken prisoner and that a new transitional government was to be installed.
They were very confident that they had succeeded in their coup attempt. This explains why there was a high level of repression and they launched a hunt for the people involved in the government or who supported it. During this wave of repression about 80 people were killed and during the afternoon of April 12 the so-called transitional government was installed.
Their first decreed was to overthrow all constitutional rights and basically to concentrate all power in the hands of the new president. But Chavez's supporters came out massively and organized huge demonstrations demanding proof that Chavez had resigned.
On April 13 the presidential palace and the main military bases in Caracas were surrounded by the masses demanding the return of Chavez to power. Thus loyal soldiers within the presidential palace took control of the building and that is how the uprising of the loyal generals forced the government that had been set up by the coup plotters to resign. That is how hen Chavez was rescued from where he was being held captive and was able to return to the palace at 4am on April 14.
Unfortunately he did not use the momentum of the masses to crush the counterrevolution and this gave them the opportunity to regroup and work to undermine the national economy. This reached its climax with the employers' lockout and the sabotage of the oil industry in December.
There was a rumour going around that there was going to be another military coup attempt on December 10. But again it was the masses who stopped the reactionaries. Millions of people filled the streets all over the country to prevent the coup.
On the evening of December 9, the military were forced to abort their attempted coup. The bank owners organised a partial shutdown, but when they were faced with the option of the banks being nationalised they quickly reopened. The oil industry was saved with the help of the workers and also with that of oil workers from the neighboring countries who offered their support in helping to reopen the extraction of oil.
The employer's lockout was presented as a "strike" to try and undermine the workers' support for the Venezuelan revolution. They tried to present Chavez as a tyrant that the people of Venezuela were trying to bring down. The actions of the opposition were not directed at achieving any form of "democratic solution". Their sole aim was to crush the revolution so that the wealthy ruling class could regain power.
What have the effects of the economic sabotage been for the bosses?
The sabotage of the oil industry led to losses for the national economy of more than 7 billion dollars, which amounts to about 70% of our national reserves. So it has been difficult to get the national economy fully functioning again. This is mainly because Chavez has refused to give the workers the control of the main industry and to nationalise the banking system. If he were to decide to carry out these measures and thereby advance towards socialism he would have the full support of the masses.
Is a new coup attempt likely to take place in the future?
Even though for now they have been weakened, once they reorganise they will keep on trying. They are not interested in a real democratic solution because they do not have the support for that. They know they don't have the support among the population to win an election, so the only way they have of regaining control of the situation is through military action. One option they may have is perhaps to try to buy off one of Chavez's loyal generals.
What do you think is the way forward for the people of Venezuela?
The only way forward is to force Chavez to decisively advance towards genuine socialism with the workers in control of the main industries and the banking system. This would be perfectly possible and there would be no big danger of a US intervention, because this would involve the risk of provoking uprisings of revolutionary movements all over Latin America.
Chavez is for most of the poor people and the working class a kind of hero. He was the second most acclaimed public figure after Fidel Castro during his visit to Argentina when Kirchner was sworn into the presidency. Everyone was trying to hear Fidel Castro's speech, but there were also demonstrations in favour of the Bolivarian revolution and of Chavez.