. Venezuelan elections | London Progressive Journal
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Venezuelan elections

Sun 14th Apr 2013

With the sudden death of Hugo Chavez on 5th March Venezuela was plunged into crisis and, as obliged under the constitution, has to hold new presidential elections which are to take place on 14 April. Few doubt that on that day Nicolas Maduro, the acting president, will be elected. He has been accepted with little if any dissent by those who voted for Chavez and by the progressive political leadership.

Little time was left for mourning before the country was gripped yet again by election fever. Hugo Chavez was president of the country for fourteen years, but in that short time he literally transformed the country. There is hardly another world leader in either the twentieth or twenty-first centuries who could claim to have had an equally positive impact not only nationally but on an international level too. There is a consensus that Chavez’s real lasting legacy will be the system of ‘Misiones’ or ‘missions’ that have been the main tool in transforming the lives of so many poor Venezuelans.

Most critics of Chavez seem to ignore the fact that Venezuela was and still is a very under-developed country, scarred by mass poverty, despite its enormous oil wealth. The difference now is that, thanks to Chavez’s intervention, the gulf between the super rich elite and the majority of the population has been narrowed.

When we visited the ‘barrio’ of Petaré in Caracas – allegedly the biggest shanty town in the world – young members of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), in their colourful patriotic T-shirts, were holding an impromptu event in the central square and giving interviews to a local television team about how they were going to implement the goals Chavez had set them.

Just off the square we discovered an old colonial building with a quiet courtyard laced with palm trees and a lower ground floor with shelves full of children’s books on all sorts of subjects from fairly tales to philosophy and science. It was a newly established free library. The white walls were colourfully painted by local children with views of their city. At a table a teacher was helping another in mastering French. This was another example of the transformations that the Chavez government has introduced. Nearby we saw new clinics and a pharmacy where patients can obtain subsidised medicine.

However voices like those of the Guardian’s Rory Carroll, echoing the White House, accuse Chavez of ‘squandering’ the country’s vast oil wealth and of ‘buying popularity’. The mainstream western media ignore the enormous internationally-validated progress achieved during Chavez’s presidency. The right wing presidential candidate, Capriles accuses Chavez and his party, the PSUV of ‘dividing the country’ that he is promising to ‘reunite’.

This is to ignore the century-old chasm there has always been between rich and poor. What Chavez has done is to empower the poor to challenge that divide and to wage the ‘class struggle’ more effectively. While his detractors decry him as a dictator, they wilfully ignore his government’s immense achievements. The statistics of these improvements are not only impressive, but seemingly endless. Of course, Venezuela is still, despite all that has been done, a severely underdeveloped country, despite its enormous oil wealth. Over decades, well before Chavez, the country’s oil wealth had been funnelled out of the country into the US and offshore bank accounts of the oligarchic super rich. Slowly over the Chavez period that was being reversed.

Luckily the fourteen years of the Chavez presidency have brought forth a whole new generation of capable, knowledgeable and committed socialist politicians who have been schooled and are determined to continue the country’s transition to socialism.

Let me list just a few of the achievements of the last ten years:

  • Over 1.7 million people were taught to read and write through Mission Robinson;
  • over 820,000 people have been included in secondary school studies and over 565,000 have entered higher education through mission Ribas and Sucre;
  • In the last two years alone, under Mission Vivienda (the project responsible for building new apartments for those in desperate need) 300,000 new homes were built by the end of 2012; 20 new universities have been created;
  • a subsidised food production and distribution network (Mercal) has been established;
  • As a result of Project Canaima, two million computers and seven million free school textbooks have been distributed to school students;
  • under Mission Barrio Adentro, more than 3 million free eye surgeries and over 560 million medical consultations have been carried out over nine years;
  • child mortality rates in the country have declined by 34%;
  • the inclusion of an additional 520,00 new pensioners into the country’s pension system through mission Greater Love, meaning that now more than 2 million people get a state pension;

And it was announced that by February unemployment had fallen to 7.6% - compare that with the rates in Spain of Greece as a result of the crisis of capitalism. These statistics are not based on internal government figures; most have been validated by international institutions like the UN and UNESCO. The promotion of women in new and active roles in successive Chavez administrations and at local levels too is also an impressive achievement.

If one compares, for instance the minimal progressive changes Blair and the Labour government brought in during their 10 years in power, then the Chavez governments’ achievements are all the more impressive.

He set in motion a genuine socialist revolution in the face of implacable and vitriolic opposition, given succour by its supporters in Washington.

One could go on and on, but the above examples should serve to demonstrate the immensity of the achievements of the past decade. In a recent report (The Rise of the South) by the United Nations Development Programme categorises Venezuela as exhibiting a ‘high’ score on the Human Development Index in the context of economic growth in the global south. Venezuela has seen some of the greatest poverty reduction and quality of life increases over the past decade. Acting president Maduro has said he is committed to maintaining and expanding the missions programme and is setting up a co-ordinating body to optimise the use of resources and to increase their efficiency even more.

The right-wing opposition candidate Capriles is so desperate to get elected that he is making the wildest promises such as offering to raise the minimum wage by 40% (it was Chavez who introduced the concept of a minimum wage in the first place) and that he will ‘recapture the acquisitive power of the workers’! He continually patronises former bus driver and trade union leader, Maduro, with ruling class arrogance. He said having Maduro at the helm ‘is like putting a junior doctor in the pilot’s seat of a plane because he happens to be the son of a pilot.’ Echoing Bush, he says he is, ’ undertaking a crusade to ensure that the country ‘is not governed by lies’.

In recent months Venezuela had opened up a new channel of communication with the US in order to attempt to mend fences, but these were broken off at the end of March in response to interfering and insulting comments by US State department Assistant Secretary for Latin America, Roberta Jacobsen who said, in an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais that it would be ‘a little difficult’ for Venezuela to conduct ‘clean and transparent elections’. Shortly before this US secretary of state John Kerry had said that ‘depending on what happens in Venezuela, there could be an opportunity for a transition’. There is no doubt that the US is doing all it can to boost the chances of Capriles and undermine Maduro, but even it realises his chances are slim. Maduro has constantly warned his supporters to remain peaceful and avoid violent confrontations or provocations by the opposition.

It is always dangerous to predict political outcomes, but most opinion polls and sober assessments put Maduro well ahead of his opponent.

If nothing earth-shattering happens between now and 14
th April, Maduro is most likely to be the next president. National representatives of the indigenous peoples of Venezuela have endorsed Maduro and he has the full support of the other left parties in the government coalition, including the Communist Party which usually polls around half a million votes. By the end of March an opinion poll conducted on behalf of Barclays Bank international put Maduro ahead of Capriles by 14.4 points.

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