Venezuela: Economic and social chaos

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On April 11th, opposition forces, including factions within the army, overthrew the Chavez government in Venezuela. Forty-eight hours later, Chavez and his government were restored to power. In both instances, the bourgeoisie invoked the rhetoric of democracy. When Chavez was overthrown capitalist propaganda told workers in Venezuela, and the U.S. as well, that the opposition forces were overturning a tyrannical populist president. The military forces involved in this action took great pains to insist this was not a coup, but rather manifestation of the "support of the army for civil society." When Chavez returned to power, capitalist propaganda declared that the overthrow of a democratically elected leader by wealthy oligarchs could not be tolerated.

The situation in Venezuela continues to be highly unstable. Chavez's restoration has not resolved the deep internal divisions within the bourgeois class that precipitated the crisis. On the one hand, there are the pro-Chavists who maintain their allegiance to the guerrilla methods of the 60's and 70's, their links with Cuba, Libya, ad the Colombian FARCs, and openly project an anti-American posture, which is unacceptable to Washington, particularly in a region that long been America's backyard. On the other hand, there is the opposition comprised largely of businessmen, the unions, the church, and various political parties. The military is divided with some factions backing Chavez, others the opposition. Chavez's return to power only exacerbates these serious tensions within the ruling class.

The U.S. regards Chavez as incapable of restoring stability to the chaotic national situation in Venezuela. In addition, Chavez's unwillingness to support American policy in Colombia and on the contrary to support the FARCs poses serious problems for Washington. There is no question that Washington would support the overthrow of Chavez, but at a time when the U.S. is so deeply engaged in an international war against terrorism that is purportedly designed to "help nations blossom through the use of democratic governments," the Bush administration requires that a democratic charade be employed to dump the bothersome populist. So, while the restoration of Chavez will not mean political stability in Venezuela, and bloody in-fighting is to be expected, the U.S. will have to intervene in Venezuela's politics more subtly, but also more decidedly. A campaign around bourgeois democracy will be unleashed to numb the working class and prepared the ground for ousting Chavez and his clique. Parliament will be used as a showcase for the disposition of political disagreements in a civil manner in a modern democracy, while the murders, backstabbing and Machiavellian scheming will occur behind the scenes.

The social chaos that reigns in Venezuela is not unique in Latin America. The recent economic collapse in Argentina also exposed the difficulties of the local bourgeoisie to find a common political front, as five different presidents were elected within the space of two weeks. What is "unique" to Venezuela is that the Chavez government represents the left Latin American style. His populist verbiage was necessary to quell the threat of hunger riots from the extremely poor social strata, which in Venezuela constitutes 70 percent of the population, and has consistently supported Chavez. The populist rhetoric is also used by Chavez to pit the poor, declassed strata against the working class, and to quash working class discontent by getting them to accept the imposition of tremendous austerity measures supposedly to help the poorest raise their standard of living.

Meanwhile, going back to last year, the opposition has developed a concerted strategy to manipulate the working class' anger both to legitimize its own action aimed at taking control of the government, and to derail working class struggles onto bourgeois terrain. For example, the CTV (Confederacion de Trabajorderes de Venezuela), the major trade union confederation, called for a 24-hour general strike for April 9 based on protests among public sector workers and the mobilization of executives and professionals within the petroleum industry. This strike was supported by the FEDECAMARAS, the bosses' federation, and by the opposition political parties. The strike was then extended by 24 hours, and finally, on April 10, the bosses and the unions decided on an indefinite national strike to oust Chavez. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie is trying to channel the anger and discontent of the various social strata and classes into an effort to bring some social stability, but above all, to prevent the workers for developing their own struggles on their own terrain.

The pro-Chavists took advantage the provisional junta's dissolution of all public powers - parliament, governors, majors, etc - to mobilize national and international support by claiming that there had been a coup that nullified the constitutional power and disregarded the democratic "popular will." We have not seen the end the ideological campaigns around bourgeois democracy. The working class in Venezuela will face the difficult task of developing its own struggles in a climate of democratic euphoria, against the tremendous weight of interclassism coming from the sheer size of the poorest strata, and the emboldened petty bourgeoisie within the opposition, a strengthened union apparatus, and all within the general framework capitalist decomposition.

An, 24/5/02.