Friday, December 8, 2006

[VIDEO] Venezuelan Election Report 1, Polling Station Tour

Venezuela recently saw Hugo Chavez re-elected in a landslide victory, with a 62 percent majority. The Hands Off Venezuela delegation tours some of the polling stations to learn more about the electoral process, the technology used, and interviews an international observer from Belgium, who oversaw the historical event.


Fred Bergen said...

Venezuela: A first balance sheet
What does the reelection of Chávez mean?
By: Milton D'León, from Caracas
Thursday December 7, 2006
Source: La Verdad Obrera 216

Unofficial translation by Yosef M. and Fred Bergen

1. As expected, Hugo Chávez obtained a big electoral victory with 62.89% over 36.85% of the right-wing candidate Manuel Rosales [1], winning in all the states, even the state where Rosales is governor. With the benefit of the comfortable economic situation fueled by high income from petroleum, and the aspiration of the masses, who continue to yearn for a real change in their living conditions, Chávez becomes the first President of Venezuela to be reelected with a massive vote, bearing in mind that voting has not been obligatory since the 1999 Constitution, and with abstention having fallen to a level of 25%. Chávez has emerged stronger in the fourth consecutive election in which the percentage of votes he received has increased. Since the weakening of the right wing after trying to topple Chávez with the support of US imperialism in the coup of April 2002, the lockout-sabotage at PDVSA and during the recall referendum of 2004, the right is beginning to recover ground with the candidacy of Rosales.

2. Contrary to what was predicted, although these presidential elections were polarized, they were carried out normally, with the right wing quickly accepting defeat. Rosales declared, "I know that some people in emotional positions would like me to lie and send the people out into the street. I could never do that because afterwards, the truth would come out. We recognize that today they beat us." From the chavista forces, even Chávez himself praised the "mature" attitude of the right wing. The Catholic Church and the Venezuelan business class permanently called for calm and praised the present electoral process. In this sense, the declarations of the US State Department are indicative, as well as the quick response by the Venezuelan Chancellor Nicolás Maduro, assuring that the government of the reelected President, Hugo Chávez Frías, "has always been willing to have better relations with the US government." Sectors of the business class congratulated Chávez: "... the businessmen who have worked jointly with the national government make clear their intention to go on contributing to 'putting an end to the bureaucracy, to creating more jobs, and turning Venezuela into a power in all possible aspects'" (ABN, Bolivarian News Agency, December 4).

3. The workers and poor people still expect much from the government of Chávez. Massive voting clearly expresses this, and even the illusions and hopes that they will get out of poverty and the fundamental demands of the big popular masses will be fulfilled by the hand of Chávez are strong. But up till now, and after 8 years of governing, very little has been put forward to satisfy the structural demands of the workers, the landless peasants and the big impoverished urban sectors. The Misiones (government social programs), although they have shown certain noticeable results among the poor in health care and education, as a whole do not aim at solving the structural problems in which the immense majority of the population has been plunged and lives. What is more, the Misiones have begun reaching their limit, and in programs like that for housing they have obviously failed. While official statistics show that poverty has been reduced from 50.4% in 1999 to 33.9% [2] now, the tremendous social inequality between rich and poor has not been reduced. Unemployment, while it has been reduced slightly in general terms, has reached 23% among the young, and the majority of new jobs are unstable, even in the government's own offices. It is important to emphasize that, among the entire active labor force, almost 50% is in the informal economy. As for what this does to the relation between workers' wages and capitalists' profits, according to official data, between 2002 and 2005 income distribution relating to wages fell from 33% to 25%, while capitalists' profits rose from 38% to 49% (see the graphs). [3] From increasing national production, we workers are entitled to a smaller part. But the big advantage of Chávez is that the popular sectors do not identify him as the one responsible for the fact that little progress has been made; instead they blame the state bureaucracy and the government sectors that surround the President, as well as corruption. It is not accidental that Chávez, in his brief speech from the balcony of Miraflores tried to answer this question by suggesting that what is coming is the struggle against bureaucracy and corruption. Up till now Chávez has spoken of "deepening the Bolivarian revolution" but has not announced concrete measures of any sort.

4. As we have said, Chávez's advantage, besides his great popular support, is the economic boom. This favorable economic situation is shown in the most important macroeconomic indices: in the last three years the economy grew by 17.4% in 2004, 7% in 2005, and is expected to have grown 9% in 2006. It's important to point out that in the preceding years, there was a steep economic decline. In 2002 GDP shrank by 9% and in 2003 by 9.4% as a consequence of the lockout-sabotage. The entire process is fed by the high price of oil, the average price of a barrel of Venezuelan oil reaching $58.59 in 2006. Meanwhile the reserves are currently valued at $35,060 million, the highest ever in their history. [4] But throughout this situation, the ones who get the greatest economic benefits are all the business owners and the transnational sectors. The president of the government banking commission agrees that "banking is one of the best businesses in the country." In the oil industry, the big transnationals have not stopped stuffing their pockets. They are now confident in the "sovereign" oil politics that Chávez is pushing today with the "New PDVSA," which are based on the formation of mixed enterprises shared between the state and the transnational oil corporations, transforming the transnational corporations into owners of 49% of the oilfields and installations in the new companies.

5. The workers can see this situation, although they still trust Chávez. So despite the attempts of the government and the union bureaucracy to put a brake on workers' struggles or dilute them in the electoral contest, the workers struggles that have been breaking out across the country have been numerous and important. These struggles are essentially sectoral and for union rights, and do not yet directly challenge the government. But it's important to emphasize that the workers are beginning to struggle with their own methods such as strikes, factory occupations, shutting down streets, etc. They resisted the blackmail from the union bureaucracy tied to the government, which told them not to take to the streets, to strengthen Chávez's reelection. If the current trends continue in the government and the persistence of the working class, popular, and poor peasant struggles, there's no saying that the popular support that Chávez counts on will not begin to erode, and that the workers' political experience with Chavismo will advance.

6. The Youth of the Revolutionary Left (JIR) waged a determined struggle to run an independent working class candidate in these elections, a campaign that would have been feasible. But we faced the obstacle of the very same people who had every chance to do carry this out, principally the majority of the leadership of the Party for Revolution and Socialism [5] [PRS, a new party based in the UNT union federation, in which the JIR is a minority faction]. Against the decision of this sector to call for a vote for Chávez, we declared ourselves as a public faction of the PRS for true class independence, calling for a blank-ballot vote. But we were also opposed by the representative of the LIT-PSTU [the Morenoite international], which distinguished itself by forming a united front with the majority sectors of the PRS, telling us that we "screwed up big time ... calling for a blank-ballot vote." In the coming period it will be crucial to strengthen the fight for the struggles of the workers, poor peasants, and popular sectors not to stop because of the electoral climate, for them to triumph and extend themselves, rising up to the level of confronting the Chávez government. The key will continue to be the struggle for independent working class politics, and so we call on the honest members of the PRS to reflect on what has occurred, in order to question the politics of the majority of the PRS leadership, preparing themselves for the events to come. To advance toward independence for the working class, the union tendency C-CURA (Classist, United, Revolutionary and Autonomous Current) must abandon its adaptation to Chavismo and fight for the National Workers Union (UNT) to completely break from its subordination to the government.

[1] With 95.94% of the ballots counted and a total of 11,542,841 voters, Chávez won with 7,161,637 votes, over Manuel Rosales with 4,196,329.

[2] According to data from CEPAL, for the year 1999 poverty was at 49.4%, but six years later it was at 37.1%. Report: Social Panorama of Latin America 2006.

[3] Central Bank of Venezuela

[4] We don't count here the funds accumulated in the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund, $17,500 million dollars managed exclusively by the executive branch.

[5] According to the electoral law, one can launch an independent candidate at the national level with 75,000 signatures. The arguments that the PRS did not have the legal right to have its own candidate were legalistic nonsense. It would have been sufficient for the union tendency C-CURA to promote a candidate by its own initiative for this important wing of the union movement to run a workers' candidate.

JM said...

the fact that the Juventud de Izquierda Revolucionaria advocated a blank vote means that they think there is no fundamental difference between Chavez and Rosales

the workers in Venezuela voted overwhelmingly for Chavez expressing their "yearning for real change", they mobilised in the run up to the elections, and on the day, waking up early in the morning and with a mood of enthusiasm welcomed the statement by Chavez that 7 million had voted for a socialist project

meanwhile the comrades from the JIR stood in the sidelines moaning that even those workers that are occupying factories do support Chavez....

luckily the JIR has no more than half a dozen members and their agitation for a blank vote failed abismally, otherwise the scenario would have been much different