By Jane West
Despite the best efforts of the US and its allies, and the vain hopes of the Western media, Hugo Chávez comprehensively won Sunday’s Venezuelan presidential election with 54.42% of the vote against 44.97% for the opposition.
Chávez gained a record 8.1 million votes compared to 6.5 for the opposition in an election with one of the highest ever turnouts in a Venezuelan election.
Chávez won in 22 of Venezuela’s 24 states and added 800,000 votes to the previous record achieved in 2006.
The victory for Chávez, the Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela is not just an advance for the class struggle in that country, but it strengthens the left developments across Latin America, and is a blow in the struggle against imperialism world-wide.
Obviously the result is first and foremost a victory for the Venezuelan people. When the National Electoral Council announced the early results at around 10pm Venezuelan time, showing that after 90% of votes counted Chávez had won an irreversible victory, a massive crowd of Chávez supporters began celebrating in front of the presidential palace in Caracas. Spontaneous street parties immediately kicked off in other cities.
Speaking from the balcony of the Presidential palace, Chávez declared: ‘Venezuela will never return to neo-liberalism’, while brandishing the sword used by Bolivar in the struggle to free Latin America from Spanish colonialism, clearly representing the commitment to continue the struggle for ‘21st century socialism’ and against US aligned neo-colonialism and imperialism.
The victory is decisive, especially in the face of a determined attempt by the opposition, with US backing, to prepare a situation in the country – and internationally – where it could deny the legitimacy of the election results. In the run up to the election media reports consistently claimed that the polls showed Chávez and Capriles (the right-wing opposition candidate) were neck and neck, when a Chávez lead of 12% was the average result of all 18 polls taken in the month before the election.
This misinformation campaign was taken up internationally, including in Britain, (see open letter from British academics during the campaign).
The first steps of a plan to delegitimise the results – through the release of a fake ‘exit poll’ by the Spanish newspaper ABC, showing Chávez had lost – were put into effect on the day of the polls. Leaked information about these plans had been put into the public domain by the Chávez campaign the week before the polls, but still the exact steps they predicted were taken.
There is no doubt that if Chávez had won a narrow victory, mayhem would have been unleashed, with claims of electoral fraud, intimidation and faked incidents of violence at the polls. A totally inaccurate Guardian front-page written on the day of the vote warned that there was ‘unease and AK47s on the streets as Venezuelans flock to the polls’.
But the when scale of the right-wing opposition’s defeat became clear, the attempt fizzled out.
This is a victory for the Venezuelan people to defend a progressive future for their country and for national sovereignty against the determined efforts of the most powerful state on earth.
And the reason for the US’s determination is clear. Since Chávez came to power the poverty rate in Venezuela has fallen from 49% in 1998 to 26.7% in 2011, and extreme poverty was reduced by 70%. In the same period Venezuela’s Gini index has decreased from 49.5 in 1999 to 39 in 2011 (0 representing perfect income equality and 100 representing perfect inequality).
The distribution of state-owned land to the landless, the building of hospitals and medical clinics in the country’s poorest areas, and the development of literacy programs lie behind these figures.
Millions of people have gained access to health care for the first time. Education has expanded, and attendance in higher education has tripled with through free educations. All these social achievements and more have brought increased social mobility and opportunities to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who previously lived in abject poverty with no escape.
A massive programme of house building begun two years ago has brought sanitation and running water to tens of thousands of urban slum dwellers, and begun to reduce the ranchos and barrios which breed crime and desperation.
The number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.
After some failings in economic policy following the world financial crisis, correct steps taken in the economy over the last two-and-a-half years mean that Venezuela has recovered from recession. It now has experienced a couple of years of strong growth while inflation has fallen sharply. It has a sizeable trade surplus, relatively low burden of debt servicing, and public debt is also relatively low.
According to Mark Weisbrot, writing in the New York Times analysing the election:
‘[Venezuela] has plenty of room to borrow foreign currency (it has borrowed $36 billion from China, mostly at very low interest rates), and can borrow domestically as well at low or negative real interest rates.’
Chávez’s re-election and continuing this economic, social and political course is a victory for the Venezuelan people, but it is also a victory for the peoples of Latin America as a whole.
As Weisbrot accurately states in the article cited above:
‘…it should not be surprising that most Venezuelans would re-elect a president who has improved their living standards. That’s what has happened with all of the leftist governments that now govern most of South America. This is despite the fact that they, like Chávez, have most of their countries’ media against them, and their opposition has most of the wealth and income of their respective countries.’
The list of leftist governments in Latin America includes, inter alia:
· Ecuador, where Rafael Correa was re-elected president by a wide margin in 2009;
· Brazil, where the enormously popular Lula was re-elected in 2006 and then successfully campaigned for his former chief of staff, now President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010;
· Bolivia where Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, was re-elected in 2009;
· Uraquay where José Mujica, succeeded his predecessor from the same political alliance— the Frente Amplio — in 2009;
· Argentina, where Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, substantially won the 2011 presidential election, succeeding her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner.
These have all not just won, but been re-elected because, like Chávez, they broke from the previous 20 years of IMF and World Bank imposed neo-liberalism, which had led to the worst growth rates in Latin America for a century and a downward spiral in living standards, employment, social welfare and infrastructure development.
Through rejecting policies that were subservient to the US and its puppet international agencies – that led to resources being sucked out of their economies into the US, declining growth, escalating debt servicing, falling living standards and social conditions – these economies have returned to faster growth, allowing advances in living standards.
Not surprisingly, these left-leaning governments see Venezuela as part of a grouping of governments that have brought democracy, national sovereignty and economic and social progress to the region.
That is why Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner tweeted following the announcement of Chávez’s electoral success “Your victory is our victory!”
Or why, when Capriles, the candidate of the right, tried to claim he was politically similar to Lula, former President of Brazil, as opposed to the ‘extremist’ Chávez, Lula sent a personal, public message to Chávez saying: ‘With Chávez’s leadership, the Venezuelan people has made extraordinary gains. The popular classes have never ever been treated with such respect, love and dignity. Those conquests must be preserved and strengthened.
‘Chávez, count on me, count on the PT (Brazilian Workers’ Party), count on the solidarity and support of each left-wing militant, each democrat and each Latin American. Your victory will be ours.’
When Kirchner said ‘your victory is our victory’, she was referring to these developments in Latin America.
But as well as a victory for the revolutionary process in Venezuela, and for these left-ward developments in Latin America, is also a victory for the class struggle against imperialism and capitalism world-wide, strengthening the working class and its allies globally, and striking a blow against imperialism and weakening it.
The price paid by imperialism for this advance in Venezuela is reflected negatively in the determined strategy of the US, first under George W. Bush and pursued by Obama, of seeking to isolate Venezuela internationally, especially from its neighbouring countries in Latin America, but also to slander and seek to undermine support for the revolution among progressive forces world-wide.
This failed in the election, and so has the US’s isolation campaign in Latin America and instead the US itself is increasingly isolated.
The known backing of the US for the coup in Honduras in 2009 led to the Latin American states setting up a new continent-wide organization — the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which excludes the United States and Canada – as an alternative to the US dominated Organisation of American States.
The ‘legal’ coup in Paraguay this year, again known to have been endorsed by the US, led to Paraguay losing its veto over the full entry of Venezuela into Mercosur (the Latin American trade agreement), reducing the isolation of Venezuela and increasing that of the US’s declining number of key allies in the region.
At the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Colombia (meeting of the OAS) the US was entirely isolated on the key issue of the continuing exclusion of Cuba (which the US and Canada veto). Host president Santos of Colombia (traditionally a core US military and strategic ally) opened the conference by saying of the veto on Cuba: “It’s an anachronism that keeps us anchored to a Cold War era we came out of various decades ago. [Another summit without Cuba is] unacceptable.”
The election results reinforce this political advance against the US in the region, and strengthen the struggle against imperialism internationally. Venezuela has played a crucial role in shifting the majority opinion among Latin American states from unconditional support for Israel, to support for the Palestinians. Venezuela stood up against the NATO bombing of Libya, opposes the preparations for war against Syria and Iran. It has played a crucial role in keeping the regional and international left together, for example through hosting this year’s Sao Paolo forum in Caracas.
The socialist developments in Venezuela help radicalise the political forces in areas where the class struggle is not so advanced – presenting an example of how it is possible to stand up to imperialism and advance socialism despite overwhelming odds. This is an inspiration to a new layer of political activists in the way advanced international struggles have been in the past, for example – on a deeper level because it was a more intense struggle – the way the struggle in Vietnam inspired a generation, or the inspiration taken from Che and the Cuban revolution, among others
We can see this, for example, with Tsipras, leader of Syriza in Greece, who has frequently pointed to the inspiration he takes from Chávez. ‘Hugo Chávez was able to achieve important things for his country through a peaceful process. He carried out the nationalisation of the natural sources of production. And he did so while under constant attacks of the big end of town’, he told Telesur in June this year.
In other words, every advance for Chávez and the revolution in Venezuela strengthens the left and progressive forces world-wide.
That is why every socialist and progressive person has a rare cause for celebration this week, and can proudly say to the Venezuelan people: your struggle is our struggle, your victory is our victory.