The National Constitutional Assembly election results show that Venezuelans want an end to the deadlock, argues Orlando Hill
Over 8 million people, 51.53% of registered voters, participated in the elections for the National Constitutional Assembly in Venezuela last Sunday. According to Jorge Valero, the representative for Venezuela in the UN, this is mathematically the largest vote for Chavismo in its history. The elections were boycotted by the opposition who saw them as an attack on the 1999 constitution, which curiously they were against. Considering the intense and violent campaign carried out by the opposition and the economic crisis the country is going through the expectation was that the participation would be as low as 25%. The president of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, declared that “the winner as peace, and when peace wins, Venezuela wins.” Valero added that these elections were “an act of heroism because the result was absolutely overwhelming in favour of peace, sovereignty, self-determination (and will) consolidate the democratic path of peace, which will have a great impact on Latin America and help to recompose the political map so that progressive forces can develop.”
The Constitutional Assembly will be composed of 545 members, 364 from a territorial representation. Each state capital has two representatives and Libertador municipality of central Caracas has 7. The remaining 181 represent 8 different sectors (8 from indigenous communities, 24 communes and community councils, 28 from pensioners, 5 from business community, 24 from students, 5 from people with disabilities, 8 from peasants and fishermen, and 79 from workers - in the case of the latter sector, it is divided into nine other sub-sectors: oil and mining, construction, banks, popular economy - independent, public administration, transportation, services and industry). Each Venezuelan had the right to vote for a candidate according to where they live and for another representing their respective sector. The rationale behind this system is to reflect and represent the way people have organised themselves in the last 20 years. This system of guaranteeing popular representation explains why the opposition boycotted the election.
These elections were considered to be a bold and controversial attempt by Nicolás Maduro to reinvigorate Chavismo, remove the country from the impase and avoid a civil war. All the attempts of dialogue with the opposition, including one with Pope Francis, had failed. The opposition emboldened by its victory in the 2015 legislative elections hardened its stance and decided not to wait for the 2019 presidential elections and demand President Maduro’s immediate removal. The result were violent street protests with over 100 killed. Some burnt alive by anti-Chavistas accused of being government infiltrators.
To explain the economic crisis one has to understand Venezuela’s structural weaknesses. The country is highly dependent on oil exports. Venezuela has the largest reserves of petroleum in the the world. The rent extracted from its exports represents 70% of the investments in the public sector which finance the social programs known as Missions. These have been very effective. Venezuela has climbed the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme from “medium” to “high” and is now tied with Uruguay as the most equal country in South America.
However, the Bolivarian Revolution has not managed to shift the country’s dependency on oil, of which two thirds is exported to the USA. Jeffrey Webber in his book “The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same” points out Venezuela is still inserted in the same position in the international division of labour. “Indeed, oil dependency and the rentier-capitalist state have become still more entrenched under Chávez and Maduro. In 1998, oil’s share of total export value was 68.7 percent, whereas in the last several years this has risen to 96 percent. Industrial manufacturing was 17 percent of export value in 2000, compared to 13 percent in 2013. There was a dramatic reorientation under Chávez of the distribution of a greater share of the oil rent to the popular classes, but the underlying model of accumulation was not altered, and thus the social gains of the Bolivarian process were always intensely vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of oil.”(p41)
It is clear that the opposition has waged economic warfare against the government through illegal currency speculation, hoarding and cross-border contraband. However, as Manuel Sutherland (a Venezuelan Marxist economist) pointed out in 2013 that this is not the sole explanation for the crisis. Venezuela still runs an economy where “400 thousand capitalists appropriate 60% of GDP, to the detriment of more than 13 million workers who only get 40%.” He goes on to declare that the “devaluation, inflation, falling wages and scarcity denote the difficulty of continuing with a situation in which the bourgeoisie, have the bulk of economic power”.
As a consequence of the right-wing street protests certain sectors inside the government have come to believe that any protest is anti-revolutionary and collaborates with imperialism. That is a big mistake. The working class and progressive forces cannot leave the streets to the reactionary forces. The Maduro regime is under intense attack and is going to need the active support of organised and mobilised forces on the ground. And the movement needs to ensure its political independence to fight to ensure that the Bolvarian process keeps going forward. It needs to go beyond defense and start pushing its own economic demands. If there is a lack of basic items in the shops, for example, the workers have the right and duty to start pushing for more control over distribution.
The results of these elections represent a return of the working class voters who had stayed home in the 2015 elections when the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) lost more than 1 million votes. These elections have shown the political maturity of the people of Venezuela and their determination to break the impasse. But to do that will mean deepening the struggle from below.
Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.
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