Venezuela Fights On! Part II
Interviewee: Jeanette Charles (Solidarity Correspondent)
Interviewer & editor: Dae-Han Song (English Chief Editor)
DH: I want to backtrack a bit and try to understand the current period by contextualizing it within the Aug. 4th assassination attempt on President Maduro and the string of electoral victories by the Chavista government starting with last year’s National Constituent Assembly and culminating in the recent recent presidential elections that reelected Maduro. While Nicolas Maduro won with 68% of the vote against the 21% of Henri Falcon, much has been made of the 46% voter turnout. Having talked with people there, what was the reason for such low voter turnout?
Jeanette (JC): Over the last year, Venezuelans have participated in four elections selecting their representatives at the: National Constituent Assembly, regional level, municipal level, and most recently for president in the second presidential election since Comandante Chávez’s physical passing. Despite an economic war, a corporate media defamation campaign, and international calls for “regime change” and threats of military intervention, Venezuelans have courageously taken to the urns. Before the elections even took place, Venezuela’s political opposition, the United States and global allies alleged fraud and called for voters to abstain.
Nonetheless, some opposition candidates split from the main opposition directive and ran under separate political tickets. The two independent opposition candidates lacked support from the main opposition leadership and attracted entirely different constituents. The extreme right wing opposition's call for abstention against alleged fraudulent election was more a tactic to discredit the Venezuelan democratic process ahead of a likely electoral defeat: Widespread abstention could be used to fuel the international narrative that the Bolivarian government is undemocratic and therefore, a totalitarian dictatorship.
However, to understand the 46%, we need also understand other electoral dynamics. Aside from those that support the opposition, others abstained not necessarily in opposition to the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro, but because of his clear victory. Early morning on election day, a taxi driver shared with us that he wasn’t voting because he assumed Maduro would still win without his vote. Throughout the day, we continued to hear others share this reasoning for not voting. In fact, several international observers, whose solidarity work drew from Sandinista Nicaragua in the 1980s and 90s, were concerned such assumption could result in a victory for the opposition and right-wing forces. While valid, their concerns were also founded on the disbelief that Chavista, revolutionary forces, are in fact the majority in Venezuela and would amass the necessary votes on election day.
Another element in the 46% turnout was Venezuela’s state of siege. On May 8th, Vice President Mike Pence called for other nations in the Organization of American States (OAS) to politically isolate and intervene in Venezuela while demanding the presidential election be cancelled. Pence also advocated for more economic sanctions. Pence’s call came weeks after former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson toured the Caribbean and South America with similar intentions to which organizations such as the Jamaican Peace Council denounced as, “rubbing salt in the wound”. Thus, the 46% that voted did with full awareness of possible US aggression.
Maria Helena, a young Venezuelan woman and our delegation co-coordinator, recalled how a barista she had met at a coffee shop wondered whether Maduro’s victory might provoke US military intervention and if Venezuelans should have voted differently — a concern buttressed by the May 21st sanctions against Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA. María told us her response: “We don’t really have a lot of options. But, if we don’t vote we risk our revolutionary process and risk reliving the Fourth Republic or worse. If we vote, then yes, we have to face empire. I much rather fight for my liberation, then pretend otherwise and make concessions.”
Concerns over military intervention are not unfounded. Just this month, the US began military exercises in Chile denounced by Bolivian President Evo Morales as threatening peace in the region. Likewise, there are legitimate concerns over the execution of a US “military option” in Venezuela as “regime change” shifts into the highest priority of US foreign policy.
Ultimately, while there are those on the ground critical of the turnout, most Venezuelans consider the recent elections another victory to deepen their process under incredible threat. Internationally, we would benefit from understanding it as a victory also.
DH: There's two sides to Maduro’s election. While there is the 46% turnout, there is also the 68% landslide victory. How has the victory impacted Maduro and his administration?
JC: Since the presidential election and the recent assassination attempt, Maduro’s administration has committed to taking bolder actions to resolve national issues. Over the last few years, the government has prioritized providing basic goods amidst an economic war while defending itself from corporate media attacks, political interference and threats of invasion. In the last year, we’ve seen the government pivot towards an offensive proactive approach.
Even with all these significant steps taking place, from a grassroots movement perspective, the government can and should always aim for more. Revolutionary forces knew it was critical to win these elections and they did. Grassroots movements know this is the time to demand greater actions are taken to address society-wide issues because they must continue to transform and deepen the Bolivarian Process for all.
In the days prior to the Aug. 4 assassination attempt against President Maduro and high-ranking military and political officials, thousands of campesinxs (farmers) marched hundreds of kilometers from the countryside to Caracas over three weeks time to meet with President Maduro and to demand clear accountability mechanisms for land reform and support for domestic agricultural development.
Across grassroots movements in Venezuela, the campesino movement is respected and considered a critical force in overcoming the country’s economic obstacles and ultimately designing a socialist economy. Their ancestral wisdom and historical practice when accompanied with the rights tools and support can create domestic production capable of supplanting the large corporations that monopolize the import and distribution of food. The campesino movement is also historically and strategically rooted in a larger struggle for a Venezuelan state organized in communes. While at the state level, investment and development of the communal state has stagnated, at a grassroots level, more and more Venezuelans are committed to this model as an instrument for exercising people’s power, self-determination, and collective governance.
Similarly, in June and July, feminist and LGBTQ organizations convened in Caracas calling for the government to decriminalize abortion and include these services into the public health system. This movement consistently rallies outside of the National Constituent Assembly’s main offices the 28th of every month. Currently, across Latin America and the Caribbean, the demand to legalize abortion (especially given criminalization’s disproportionate impact on the working class and poor) is growing, captured in the slogan: “Sex education to decide, contraceptives to not abort and abortion to not die.” Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly and its mandate to expand and revise the constitution, makes it possible for Venezuelans to insert these concerns into national debates.
We’ve had 19 years of the Bolivarian revolution. There is a whole generation of people that have been educated in Bolivarian values. What is the potential of this demographic trend to become producers and help run the government?
The Venezuelan people are stewards of their own revolutionary process though it is difficult to measure their reach and impact within state institutions at every moment. There are young adults raised entirely within the last 19 years of the Bolivarian process and others who have experienced, to varying degrees, Venezuela’s Fourth Republic. As a student at the Bolivarian University, founded in 2004 to develop Bolivarian socialist values, I learned from and studied alongside young people, middle-aged adults and elders who had different points of engagement with the process. The Bolivarian University’s pedagogy encourages students to study theory and apply theory through practice. Ultimately, students are empowered to seek out solutions to improve a societal dilemma or deficit of their interest. This approach allows students to situate themselves in society and assess their responsibility for creating a more just and humane world. As a result, everyone contributes to the process by incorporating their wisdom, talents, and vision.
This strategy exists beyond the Bolivarian University and is present in society at large. Due to this, many young people from working class backgrounds have driven community initiatives, become involved in state institutions, and led other critical spaces committed to the consolidation of 21st Century Socialism, Bolivarianism, Latin American and Caribbean unity, and anti-imperialism, among others. Young people and women in particular have increasingly held leadership positions in their community councils, cooperatives and collectives as well as roles in ministries as vice ministers or directors.
What is occurring in Venezuela continues to stand as a living testament to Chávez’s vision of a multipolar world and an inclusive society radically rooted in the people’s determination to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. While challenges persist, as all revolutionary processes take unexpected twists and turns, Venezuelans march on fully understanding and accepting their historical contribution to this world eager to emerge anew.