By Fiona Edwards
Venezuela is convening a National Constituent Assembly to improve its current constitution. The initiative could help restore stability in the country so is being opposed by those who wish to overthrow the government.
The Venezuelan revolution is facing a concerted assault from the country’s right wing opposition working in conjunction with Trump’s US administration. Britain’s ruling circles are also backing this counter revolutionary offensive with the 20 July Financial Times Editorial calling for regime change to be initiated. The objective is the overthrow of Venezuela’s socialist government. If that was achieved it would deliver a major blow to the working class and oppressed not only within Venezuela and Latin America but also in general internationally.
Hugo Chavez led the first socialist revolutionary advance of the twenty first century in Venezuela. Alongside Cuba, Venezuela is an influential revolutionary force in Latin America.
The leadership of Venezuela’s socialist revolution has not only advanced the interests of their own population with inspiring social programmes which have improved living standards and tackled poverty amongst its own population, despite the economic difficulties of recent years, but they have also pursued an internationalist agenda which has advanced the interests of humanity as a whole. Chavez, followed by Maduro, opposed the US’ wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, as well as supported the Palestinians’ struggle.
The regional context of the offensive against Venezuela’s socialist government is that right wing, US-backed, forces have been advancing since Latin America descended into economic crisis. The right has replaced the left and taken power in Argentina and Brazil – in the former following an election, in the latter as a result of a parliamentary coup.
Despite these setbacks for the left the battles in the region are far from over. There are huge forces on both the left and right fighting over questions of governmental power.
Venezuela’s worsening economic situation
The Chavista leadership of Venezuela, led by President Maduro, is fighting to defend the revolution’s gains, whilst facing adverse economic conditions.
Venezuela’s economy, as it is currently structured with oil as its main export, is particularly vulnerable to the international oil price. That price has plummeted over the past three years, from June 2014 $112 per barrel to its January 2016 low point around $35.
The economy has faced problems even without the price collapse. Under-investment in the oil sector has resulted in high production costs and it has been estimated the country needs an oil price of $120 per barrel to cover the government’s public spending commitments.
Currently (2017 July) the oil price is around $46 a barrel and the economy has been in recession for the past three years. Inflation has risen, real incomes fallen and the government has had to cut its spending.
The Venezuelan Central Bank has provided data to the IMF stating that inflation is at 274%, lower than the 700% rate referred to by Western press sources, but nonetheless very high. Prices for basic goods have been rising much faster than incomes.
The right wing opposition in Venezuela is also deliberately making the situation worse, with its “economic war” involving the hoarding and burning of food.
The Chavistas are trying to defend living standards – Maduro raised the monthly minimum wage in July by 20%, which was the 16th increase since 2013.
Prior to this economic crisis the Venezuelan revolution was delivering stunning social achievements. Venezuela had previously suffered decades of neo-liberalism which reduced the living standards of the masses as multinational companies took Venezuela’s oil revenue. Chavez nationalised the oil sector and redistributed the previously plundered resources to the working class and oppressed in Venezuela. There has been a massive programme of social missions in education, health, transport, housing and food provision raising the living standards of the masses. In economic terms the Chavistas have carried out what can accurately be described as a “revolution in distribution.”
As this article by John Ross suggests China’s economic model with its “revolution in production” has some lessons that the left in Latin America and elsewhere can draw on. The use of state investment to develop production has delivered one of the world’s highest levels of economic growth. As a result living standards have continuously risen for several decades, including since the 2008 financial crisis. More than 700 million people in China have been lifted out of poverty over a 30 year period.
The counter revolutionary offensive
Taking advantage of Venezuela’s current economic crisis the counter revolutionary offensive has been stepped up.
The US has been attempting to overthrow the government since the Chavistas first came to power. In 2002 it backed a failed coup attempt against Chavez. Since 2009 it has budgeted $49 million to support the Venezuelan right wing opposition. And that is just the aid that is known about.
The Venezuelan revolution has built up much support across the region, in part due to its generous programmes of economic assistance. As these programmes are reduced the US’ right wing allies in Latin American are determined to undermine the revolution’s reputation.
Within Venezuela the right wing opposition have been escalating their destabilisation campaigns. Over the past four months they have led a series of violent street protests against the government in which over 100 people have been killed.
A Constituent Assembly can improve the country’s democracy
A National Constituent Assembly is being convened to amend the Venezuelan Constitution. This can improve the country’s democracy, which is important in defending the revolution. The current constitution was drafted in 1999 by a similar process. Then Chavez convened a National Constituent Assembly. Maduro has initiated a similar process.
The National Constituent Assembly will be elected on 30 July by a direct, universal and secret ballot of Venezuelans under the authority of the National Electoral Council. There are 20 million people on the electoral register, who will be electing 364 assembly members. All 332 of Venezuela’s municipalities will get one representative, with the 23 state capitals each getting two and Caracas will elect seven. In addition to these 364 representatives, 181 will be elected from various sections of society including students, workers, pensioners, indigenous people and businesspeople.
The convening of an assembly is democratic and entirely constitutional. It is also necessary, as changes are needed to help restore order and peace in Venezuela and protect the population from the right wing’s destabilisation campaigns. The population’s support for socialism needs to be respected, which despite the current economic difficulties remains overwhelming (at 75% according to a recent poll).
The right wing has consistently abused the current constitution with its violent campaigns. At present the right is trying to disrupt July’s elections to the National Constituent Assembly and delegitimise them.
The right organised their own unofficial and illegal “referendum” on Sunday 16 July which included a question on whether people want the army to revolt against the democratically elected government and organise a coup. They are also calling for a boycott of the elections.
The right’s campaign is closely coordinated with the US. Trump has indicated that should the elections proceed on July 30, “the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.” The Financial Times speculates that this could include sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry. The EU has also called on Maduro to scrap the planned elections. Venezuela is right to resist these attempts by foreign powers to interfere in its internal democracy.
Some within Venezuela’s opposition want a foreign invasion to achieve regime change. Juan Requesens, a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly has said: “Someone asked me, Juan, what if you paralyse Venezuela and the government still holds its constituent assembly? I said if that happens, there will be an almighty war. He replied: you must have a plan B? What do you think is a Plan B, like an invasion? Well the fact is to get to an invasion we first have to go through this stage, don’t we?”
The high stakes
If Venezuela’s socialist revolution was overthrown the consequences would be a return to neo-liberal economics along the lines being pursued in Brazil and Argentina – resulting in the reversal of the social gains since Chavez was first elected in 1999.
Plus inevitably, as following the 1973 coup in Chile, there would be attempts to crush and physically eliminate the revolutionaries. The capitalist class in Venezuela has no hesitation in using violence to crush its opponents; in the “Caracazo” of February 1989 President Carlos Andres Perez oversaw the killing of hundreds of people, likewise the right killed many during the April 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez and since then many more have been killed by the right’s attacks.
Internationally the left should step up its efforts to support Maduro’s government, defend Venezuela’s sovereignty and oppose the efforts to overthrow its revolution.
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