Venezuela Elections: Trump vs. Maduro

Many Venezuelans are rallying behind incumbent Maduro in opposition to Trump's aggressive sanctions against their country

The Venezuelan public is faced with a choice between the poorly performing Maduro administration or a Trump proxy government likely to impose economic shock therapy on the country, argues Alan MacLeod

Venezuela Analysis – The May 20 presidential election officially pits Hugo Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro against four other candidates, the chief among them opposition challenger Henri Falcon, a former governor of Lara State. Yet these elections are as much Trump vs. Maduro as Falcon vs. Maduro.

Despite the fact that the country has a long history of free, fair and internationally observed elections, something his own country certainly cannot claim to have, President Trump has pre-emptively decided that the US will not recognize the results, reflecting a longstanding American tradition of casting doubt upon elections whose result does not go its way. The Trump administration has called for a boycott of the elections and placed multiple rounds of punishing sanctions on Venezuela, crippling the economy. It has also directly threatened Venezuela’s bondholders not to negotiate with the country, thus stopping any sort of debt restructuring.

The election takes place in the shadow of a possible US-sponsored coup or even an invasion if the people vote for Maduro. Senator Marco Rubio announced that “the world would support the armed forces in Venezuela if they decide to protect the people and restore democracy by removing a dictator” while Trump noted that “we have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option”.

These are hardly idle threats; as I detail in my recently released book, Bad News From Venezuela: 20 Years of Fake News and Misreporting, the US openly supported a military coup that toppled Chavez in 2002, funneling millions of dollars to the coup leaders through organizations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy. Yet the media treated the idea of US involvement as absurd, one newspaper stating “Anticipating correctly that the Chavez government would fall of its own accord, like a rotten fruit. The last thing the Americans need is a new set of myths about Yanqui coup mongering, after the fashion of their alleged role in the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende.”

That Maduro is despised and needs to be taken care of is treated as a given in the press, with the only second thought given to how it may backfire if not successful. Yet he maintains significant support, particularly among the working class. Indeed, his approval ratings are higher than many of his neighbors’, including Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos and Brazil’s Michel Temer. Yet there are no calls for coups against these pro-American right-wing regimes.

The US also supported a 2014 attempt at overthrowing the government led by Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez’s plan was to essentially force a resignation through a wave of violence. His followers burned down government buildings, destroyed roads, buses and subway stations, attacked doctors and teachers and even garroted passers by. The movement was highly unpopular inside Venezuela, polling up to an 87 percent disapproval rate, backfiring on the opposition and causing them to lose support. Yet it was extremely popular in the West, as the opposition and their friends in the international media were careful to present themselves as brave protestors standing up against a dictatorship. It was certainly successful in their attempt to garner international sympathy but actually reduced their influence in the country. Despite the violence, the US described Lopez’s group as “peaceful protestors” met with extraordinary violence from the security services and accused Maduro of concocting “totally false and outlandish conspiracy theories” about US involvement as an attempt to “distract” the country away from his misrule. However, it was the US was concocting outlandish narratives when Obama declared a “national emergency” with respect to the “extraordinary threat” to the US Venezuela was causing. That national emergency has been re-declared three times and is still active. Lopez’s placement under house arrest is one of the key White House arguments as to why the upcoming elections are not free and fair.

Lopez’s condition is a key White House argument as to why the elections are unfair and why many in the opposition are choosing to boycott them. However, former soldier and state governor Henri Falcon has stepped up to run as a serious challenge to Maduro. Falcon announced his reasons for running not in the Venezuelan media, but in The New York Times, perhaps signaling who he believes his real constituency to be. Closely advised by Wall Street economists, he promises that he will open the country up to international banking organizations like the IMF and replace the local currency with the US dollar. Both are sure to be a huge boon to US business interests but are unlikely to help the people, judging by the many examples of economic shock therapy in Latin American history.

That the US has bankrolled, trained and supported virtually every group opposed to the Chavistas for nearly twenty years is simply taken as a given in Venezuelan politics. Thus, the election is not so much about Maduro vs. Falcon but Maduro vs. Trump. The public is faced with a choice between the poorly performing Maduro administration or a Trump proxy government. If Maduro does win, the US is sure not to accept the results, resulting in more economic warfare. Yet if Falcon wins the country is faced with potential economic shock therapy. Either one may be a bitter pill to swallow.

Alan MacLeod (@AlanRMacleod) is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group. His book, Bad News From Venezuela: 20 years of Fake News and Misreporting, was recently published by Routledge.

Venezuela’s highly unusual presidential election

New Internationalist – Venezuela will hold its 24th electoral event in 20 years this Sunday, 20 May. The path to this election was perhaps one of the most convoluted and difficult of Venezuela’s now nearly 20-year Bolivarian Revolution.

First, there was a snap election in 2013, a mere five weeks after president Chávez died of cancer on 5 March. The opposition believed this was their best chance since 1998 to oust ‘Chavismo’ from power and so, when its candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, lost to Nicolas Maduro by a mere 1.5 per cent, they cried fraud and launched a wave of violent protests and riots that left at least nine dead.

The following year the opposition launched another wave of violent protests (known as ‘guarimbas’) that lasted about three months and left 43 people dead. This opposition tactic, which the opposition tried again in 2017, was immensely effective on an international level because every time it was applied, and people were killed (most of the time at the hands of the protesters themselves), the international perception of Venezuela – as mediated by international news outlets – was significantly worsened. It was thus only a small step to routinely begin to refer to Venezuela as a dictatorship, despite its more than annual electoral contests.

Meanwhile, following president Chávez’s death, Venezuela’s economic situation began to deteriorate significantly. The inflation rate rose from 21 per cent in 2012 to over 100 per cent in 2015 (and turned into hyper-inflation in 2018), basic consumer items and of food staples became increasingly difficult to purchase because of shortages, oil revenues dropped by two-thirds, from an estimated $77 billion in 2012 to $25 billion in 2016 – all of which gave the opposition additional reasons to launch ever-more uncompromising attacks on the government.

The reasons for the economic crisis are manifold, but its heart can be found in the confluence of: a fixed exchange rate, a concerted business sector effort to undermine the economy, declining oil prices, and – beginning in 2017 – US financial sanctions, all of which combined to create one of the worst economic crises in Venezuelan history.

At first, the 22nd of April was the agreed-upon date, but in the last minutes before the agreement was to be signed in late February, opposition representatives decided to withdraw. Exactly why they withdrew is not completely clear, but it seems quite plausible that the US government intervened and convinced the opposition not to sign the agreement.

Rodriguez Zapatero went out of his way to criticize the opposition’s last-minute withdrawal, stating, ‘I find it shocking that the document was not signed by the opposition representation. I do not agree with the circumstances and the reasons, but my duty is to defend the truth and my commitment is not to give up on the achievement of a historic commitment among Venezuelans.’

The Maduro government then announced that it would sign the agreement anyway and proceed with the 22 April presidential election, with or without the opposition. The opposition, in contrast, announced it would boycott the election.

Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon of the Avanzada Progresista party, delivers a speech to supporters during a campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela 14 May 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

 

At first, the only major opposition leader to break from this decision was Henri Falcon, who immediately announced his candidacy for the presidency. Eventually, Falcon and Maduro agreed to set a new date – 20 May – for the presidential election, to give more time for campaigning.

Henri Falcon has always been a bit of a ‘maverick’ politician. Originally, he was a staunch Chavez supporter and governor of Lara state, one of Venezuela’s more populous states. However, he broke from Chávez in 2010. Already before 2010 Flacon had been regarded with suspicion by many Chavistas, mainly for his somewhat pro-business stance and for his often lukewarm support of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) party. Eventually, in 2012, he joined the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and formed his own political party, Progressive Advance. In 2013 he even became Henrique Capriles’ campaign manager in the presidential election of that year.

Falcon’s break with the MUD for the 2018 presidential election has caused hardline opposition leaders to regard him very suspiciously. However, despite this, he is enjoying the support of many moderate opposition leaders, such as Claudio Fermin, a long-time Venezuelan politician, who is now Falcon’s campaign manager, and of Jesus Torrealba, the former chair of the MUD.

The MUD’s decision to boycott the election should be puzzling. This is the best opportunity since 1998 that the opposition has to defeat the Bolivarian Revolution. The economy is now in hyper-inflation territory, real wages have dropped dramatically, and shortages continue to cause problems, especially in the area of medicines. Under such circumstances it ought to be possible to defeat even the enormously popular Chavez himself, were he alive today.

Venezuela’s local currency lies on a currency trader’s table in the border town of Maicao, Colombia. Driven by a deepening economic crisis, smuggling across Venezuela’s land and maritime borders – as well as illicit domestic trading – has accelerated to unprecedented levels and is transforming society. Although smuggling has a centuries-old history here, the socialist government’s generous subsidies and a currency collapse have given it a dramatic new impetus. Picture taken 18 August 2015. REUTERS/Girish Gupta

 

So why is the MUD boycotting the election? The official explanation is that there are insufficient guarantees that there will be no fraud. Key opposition demands and the creation of a new National Electoral Council and the dropping of charges against several key opposition leaders. I will return to the issue of the safety of the vote a little later, but even if the fraud concern were legitimate, no election in history has been successfully challenged with a preemptive boycott instead of participating and subsequently proving fraud.

The only other plausible explanation for a preemptive boycott is that the opposition does not want to win ‘only’ the presidency. That is, it wants a radical break from the Bolivarian Revolution and the only way it can do that is to provoke a political and economic crisis that would lead to a coup or some other form of radical regime change. That is, Chavistas continue to dominate not only the Supreme Court, the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General’s office, but also the National Constituent Assembly, which is in charge of re-writing the constitution.

Under such circumstances governing from an opposition-controlled presidency, even under Venezuela’s somewhat presidential system, would be extremely difficult. Given that opposition leader Julio Borges and others are lobbying for ever tougher sanctions against Venezuela, it seems clear that the strategy is to force a complete collapse of the government and not to participate any longer in any democratic processes within Venezuela.

Those who know about Venezuela from mainstream media no doubt dismiss Venezuela’s electoral system as a sham. However, contrary to popular belief, Venezuela actually has one of the most transparent and fraud-proof election systems in the world. It developed such a system precisely because of the country’s pre-1998 experience with rampant fraud, which led to the development of an exceptionally secure voting system.

Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores greet supporters during a campaign rally in Calabozo, Venezuela 10 May 2018. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS 

 

This is not the place to go into this in detail, but it is a dual balloting system, in which paper ballots and electronic ballots are both cast and compared against one another. Also, every step of the process, from the voter registry, to the voting machines, to the fingerprint scanners, to the tabulation systems are thoroughly audited by election observers from all political parties. All of this makes Venezuela’s voting system far more secure and fraud-proof than practically any other voting system in the world.

The main problem that opposition candidate Henri Falcon faces now is not the voting system, but the lack of institutional support. With all of the main opposition parties boycotting the vote (only three parties out of over 20 opposition parties are supporting his candidacy), he is having a hard time mobilizing supporters for rallies and for his campaign more generally. On top of it all, Falcon must convince opposition voters not to participate in the boycott. Maduro, on the other hand, has the formidable machinery of the PSUV at his disposal. The country’s severe economic crisis, though, evens the scales quite a bit.

Opinion polls have been all over the place in terms of who is ahead in this race. In the past Venezuelan opinion polls have always been extremely partisan, with pro-government polls reliably showing the government candidate ahead and opposition polls showing the opposition candidate ahead. However, usually in the week before the election the polling numbers of the two sides tended to converge. This time around, though, they have remained as far apart as ever before. Pro-government pollsters, such as the company Hinterlaces give Maduro a 17 point advantage. Opposition pollsters, such as Datanalisis, are giving Falcon an 11 point advantage over Maduro. The main reason for the uncertainty in polling is the boycott. It is extremely difficult to know how many voters will participate. Opposition polls say it will be no more than 35 per cent, while pro-government polls put the participation figure at 70 per cent. In the end, whether Falcon or Maduro will win will depend entirely on how many voters abstain.

On the left: A supporter of Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon, with a fake hundred dollar bill on his forehead, during a campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela 14 May 2018. On the right: Supporters of Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro shout slogans during a campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela 4 May 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

 

Regardless of who wins, however, Venezuela’s future remains extremely uncertain. US efforts at radical regime change – targeting not just the presidency, but all state institutions – will make governing the country difficult no matter who wins. Already the US, and under its pressure almost all other conservative governments in the region, has pledged not to recognize the result. The pre-emptive non-recognition of an election, despite the use of one of the world’s most secure voting systems, is completely unprecedented in Latin American history.

If Maduro wins, the US will no doubt intensify sanctions, perhaps prohibiting the import of Venezuelan oil. If Falcon wins, he would also have to manage an extremely complicated situation, in which most state institutions remain in Chavista hands and in which the opposition and the US possibly refuse to recognize him as the legitimate president.

As president of the Second Republic of Venezuela, Simón Bolívar, explained in the early 19th century, the US thus continues to ‘plague [the] America[s] with misery in the name of liberty.’

Gregory Wilpert is author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chávez Government (Verso Books, 2007), co-founder of Venezuelanalysis.com, and currently Senior Producer at The Real News Network.

Activists, Academics Demand Fair News Coverage of Venezuela Elections

Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon of the Avanzada Progresista party, waves to supporters during his campaign closing rally in Maracaibo, Venezuela May 12, 2018.Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon of the Avanzada Progresista party, waves to supporters during his campaign closing rally in Maracaibo, Venezuela May 12, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

“We refuse to be victims of a media disinformation operation,” reads an online petition.

TeleSur English, May 14 – An international group of intellectuals and activists are demanding media corporations to inform on the upcoming Venezuelan elections in a more balanced and honest way, instead of reproducing a single narrative that’s being spread by most media outlets.

“We oppose the media narrative that seeks to conceal and stigmatize the diversity of opinions. We refuse to be victims of a media disinformation operation, the objective of which is to create – in international public opinion – the conditions to justify anti-democratic actions against Venezuela,” reads and online petition on the medium web platform.

In the petition, called “Venezuela: I do not want to be a victim of media disinformation,” a group of people including Argentinian Nobel Peace Prize Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the Spanish writer and journalist Ignacio Ramonet, the Colombian lawyer and former senator Piedad Cordoba, the Landless Workers’ Movement coordinator Joao Pedro Stedile, and economists Mark Weisbrot and Jacques Sapir, express their concerns regarding the media misinformation about the Venezuelan elections, and demand “balanced information that allows us to understand the complexity of the situation in Venezuela.”

“In this tense political context, we – citizens of the world, targeted by the great international media corporations – claim our right to be informed in a plural, balanced and honest way about the upcoming events in Venezuela,” the petition reads.

“We refuse to be victims of a media disinformation operation whose objective is to create the necessary conditions on international public opinion to justify anti-democratic actions against Venezuela. I SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION.”

Venezuelans will take part in the May 20 electoral process to elect a new president among three candidates, two of which are challenging the incumbent Nicolas Maduro, besides the local legislative councils.

The petition explains that the election will be overseen by over 2,000 international observers, including organizations such as the African Union, the Caribbean Community and the Electoral Experts Council of Latin America, and media still claims the process is a fraud.

“This democratic appointment, however, is already being boycotted by the political and media arms of powerful groups nationally and internationally denouncing the results before they have even been announced,” says the petition.

Despite opposition candidates having actually said they trust the Venezuelan electoral system, other sections of the opposition are thinking the process is a fraud and have called for abstaining from voting, while others even have called for a military intervention instead of taking part in the elections.

Venezuela Condemns Israel Attack Against Palestinian People

Palestinian demonstrators run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops Palestinian demonstrators run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops | Photo: Reuters

TeleSUR English, May 14 – At least 52 Palestinians have been killed along the Gaza Strip during demonstrations against the beginning of the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Venezuela “firmly condemns” the “violent actions against the Palestinian people,” stated the country’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza on Tuesday in reaction to the Israeli attacks against Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem.

Venezuela, “always aligned with its constant support for the Palestinian people’s cause and its entire right to recover the territories that historically belong to them, joins them in the pain they are going through in such dark times, and joins the relatives of the victims in their mourning,” said a communique.

Venezuela also rejected Washington’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which the foreign ministry labeled “contrary to International Right Law” and “undermining the efforts to find a peaceful solution.”

Israel police have deployed thousands of police officers in Jerusalem for the U.S. embassy relocation ceremony.

According to health officials, at least 52 Palestinians have been killed along the Gaza Strip during demonstrations against the beginning of the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It was the highest Palestinian death toll in a single day since a series of protests dubbed the “Great March of Return” began at the border with Israel on March 30 and since the 2014 Gaza war.

The health officials said over 2,000 Palestinians were wounded, about 450 of them by live bullets.

Palestinians have long viewed East Jerusalem as the true capital of a future Palestinian State.

The protests are scheduled to culminate on Tuesday when Palestinians mark Nakba Day.

‘Pueblo a Pueblo’, building food sovereignty in Venezuela

(Investig’Action / Ricardo Vaz in Caracas) – Pueblo a Pueblo” is an initiative undertaken to fight back against the economic war that has hurt the Venezuelan people in their access to food. The idea is to organise the different links of the chain (production, distribution and consumption) in order to be rid of intermediaries. This way food is taken directly from the “pueblo” in the countryside to the “pueblo” in the city (1). We had the opportunity to talk to Martha Lía Grajales and Ana Graciela Barrios, who are part of the “Unidos San Agustín Convive” cooperative, which is involved in this experience, as well as witness a cooperative assembly and the food consumption event.

San Agustín is a neighbourhood that starts close to the centre of Caracas and then runs up the hills. With an Afro-Venezuelan majority, it is known for its music, artistic talent and cultural riches, and more recently for the cable car that connects San Agustín to the centre of Caracas.

Nevertheless, our visit to San Agustín is due to another “tradition”: popular organisation. In the midst of an economic war that has meant severe difficulties in terms of access to food, the communities of San Agustín, through the Unidos San Agustín Convive cooperative, joined the “Pueblo a Pueblo” program. It is an initiative created by peasants in the west of the country that Martha describes as follows:

“The idea is to generate processes of organisation and politicisation with a logic that is an alternative to capitalism. Processes centred on the peasants/farmers, which assume a class-oriented logic, in which the common problems related to production are presented and their solutions found collectively as well.”

Some of these problems have to do with the dependence on imported seeds, which becomes harder in times when the government has been forced to cut back on imports. Therefore peasant communities have been developing processes to rescue native seeds, as well as implementing agricultural practices that are less harmful to the land, with less agro-chemicals. Especially important, Martha sustains, is planning the harvests, so that producers are not as vulnerable to the fluctuations of the market.

San Agustín cable-car (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Beyond the organisation at the level of production, it is also necessary to do it at the level of distribution and consumption, in order to be rid of the intermediaries, as Martha explains:

“What we have been doing is organising the final link of the production chain, which is consumption, framing it as practical exercise of socialism. As such we can see an emphasis on democratic processes, horizontal assemblies, an equal distribution of food, public processes of accountability after each food consumption event, and if there is any surplus left it is re-invested in the cooperative.”

Martha also points out that the challenge is not just to consume in an organised fashion, but also to produce. It is impossible to grow food in San Agustín, but the cooperative is moving forward to raise egg-laying hens. And a small group has been producing clothing, for now underwear for children (girls), which will be exchanged in the opposite direction with the “Pueblo a Pueblo” peasants, in a friendly manner and with a transparent cost structure.

San Agustín seen from the cable-car (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

It is worth noting that, in one of the most violent neighbourhoods of the Libertador municipality, this initiative has succeeded in mobilising people from different sectors, something they might have avoided doing in the past. In fact, the consumption events that take place every two weeks rotate between three places: Hornos de Cal, El Manguito and Terrazas del Alba. The initiative started one and a half years ago, and the number of families participating has risen to about 150 in each of the three locations.

In times of economic war, with food prices constantly rising, this is an important initiative, as Ana describes:

“The access to vegetables allows families to complement their diet, with natural products that have little use of chemicals. Not only that, they are much cheaper than what one would pay on the street. Alongside the CLAP bag (2), which contains processed products that are important in the Venezuelan diet, this is an important contribution.”

It also helps to reduce the dependency on the CLAP deliveries, which do not always happen on a regular basis, sometimes due to the financial blockade being imposed against Venezuela. As for the consequences of the crisis and inflation on the program itself, Ana points out that prices have gone up. This is in part due to rising production costs, but also because the peasants that take part also see their living costs rise. This produces difficulties on the consumption side, because even though the vegetables are sold much cheaper than outside, it still takes a reasonable amount of money to buy a large amount of vegetables at once.

Nevertheless, Ana assures us that “the continuity of the process is not in question, because besides its organisational and political potential, in concrete terms it offers a solution in terms of access to food.”

The cooperative assembly

The assembly, to prepare the consumption event, is masterfully chaired by Martha, who strikes a seemingly impossible balance, on one hand allowing everyone to intervene and feel comfortable, and on the other moving forward with the schedule so that the meeting does not last for hours. Amongst the 35 participants only 4 are men, and Martha addresses the group calling them “muchachas” or “compañeras” with nobody flinching.

The first point on the agenda are the reports from the multiple work-groups of the cooperative. The process to raise laying hens has been moving forward, the hen houses have been built, and now it is a matter of choosing where to place them. The group of textile workers talks about the production of underwear for children, the difficulties due to skyrocketing raw material costs, and the assembly decides that the most recently produced batch should be taken to Spain by the member who is going to receive a prize (3).

Cooperative assembly (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

The following work-group announces, to everyone’s delight, that the process of legally registering the cooperative is almost completed. This will open up new possibilities, for instance to request that the municipality award them space to build a storage facility. On the matter of production there is also talk of what comes after the hens, namely raising rabbits and sheep. Equally welcomed are the news that thre has been progress in the process of requesting a truck from the Interior Ministry (see below). The only work-group that has yet to start moving is the processing one, which has as a first task the processing of 7 kg of corn supplied by the El Maizal commune. The spokesperson for the group assumes her responsibility, which is mitigated due to having brought coffee!

Then comes the time to register volunteers for the different taks of the consumption event: registration, unloading, logistics and accounting. People volunteer, sometimes complaining of other difficulties, to which Yamile Anderson, one of the participants, replies reminding everyone that “here everything is done with love”.

The consumption event

Distributing food into bags (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Finally the day of the consumption event arrives. The truck arrives early in the morning with the vegetables, which are then unloaded, weighed and divided in equal parts, in this case 100. In this parking lot under the cable car station, 100 bags are placed on a grid, and the different foods are also place in grids. The vegetables being distributed today are potatoes, onions, carrots, scallions, yams, cassava, pumpkins, cabbages, cilantro and garlic.

What happens next could, for a second, be mistaken for fordist assembly line. A group of people lines up in a row, each with a blue bag in front of them. A second group lines up from this first one towards the particular vegetable being distributed. And a third one gathers the small empty bags from the first group in order to fill them up and hand them over to the second one. Once a row of bags is filled, the first group takes a step forward, and so on and so forth.

Vegetable bags at the end of the process (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Of course this is a process that has nothing fordist about it. From the blaring salsa music that infects everyone to the rounds of applause that follow whenever the distribution of a given vegetable has been completed, it is impossible not to recall the words of Yamile – everything is truly done with love. The final result are 100 bags with 10 kg of vegetables, to be sold around 70% cheaper than through the conventional market. When this is done, the people who registered for the consumption are called, one by one, to gather their bag, weigh it, and pay for it.

While all of this is going on, a group of women prepares the mandatory sancocho (a hearty soup). With some ingredients from the consumption event and others that people brought, the giant pot over the fire symbolises a process that is almost synonymous with the construction of a communal spirit.

A truck for San Agustín!

The Unidos San Agustín Convive cooperative is currently in a crowdfunding campaign to buy a (used) truck. The main motivation, as Martha and Ana explain, is to connect to producers, most of them women, in Carayaca (Vargas state). This is a very isolated region, only accessible with a 4×4 car, which makes producers more vulnerable to intermediaries. This is not meant to be a separate project, but a new axis of the Pueblo a Pueblo platform.

The cooperative has also asked that the Interior Ministry assign them a truck out of the ones apprehended for drug trafficking or contraband. Although there have been positive developments in this regard, the question is far from settled. And even if it does work, the truck will surely need a sizeable expenditure to get back up and running, especially with the growing costs of tires, batteries and other car parts. So the campaign funds would thus be destined for this purpose.

Preparing the sancocho (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

It is a tremendous mistake that leftist people and organisations limit themselves to analysing Venezuela through the prism of (supposedly more evolved) western democracy. Especially because they end up, directly or indirectly, lending more strength to the imperialist aggression that Venezuela is facing. On the other hand, experiences such as this one, of people organising in a logic that is alternative to capitalism, should be worthy of interest and support from all those who consider themselves leftists. Not only that, they are essential to understand what is truly revolutionary about the Bolivarian Revolution. In the end, Martha sums it up better than anyone:

“Despite all the difficulties and contradictions of this process, there is a pueblo that has decided to be free, and it is out there fighting.”

Notes

(1) We are deliberately keeping the word “pueblo” in Spanish, because it is not just used with the meaning of “people” (“gente”) but with the connotation of community or organised people.

(2) The CLAP (Local Committees for Supply and Production) are a government initiative that delivers boxes/bags at subsidised prices containing some of the main staples of the Venezuelan diet: cornflour, pasta, rice, black beans, cooking oil, and more. These are delivered door to door through local community organisations.

(3) The Unidos San Agustín Convive cooperative and the Colectivo Surgentes were awarded a prize by the Bienal Internacional de Educación en Arquitectura para la Infancia y Juventud for its project with local children to turn (paint) a stairwell into a river.

Cover photo: “Feeding Popular Power” (“Alimenta el Poder Popular”) (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Venezuela Analysis Podcast ‘Ear To The Ground’ – Venezuela at the Crossroads: May Presidential Elections

In the midst of great odds, Venezuela has decided to move forward with the May 20 presidential elections. In this podcast the VA team brings an on the ground perspective of the current campaign, the candidates and the controversy surrounding the electoral process.

VA Podcast Ear To The Ground
VA Podcast Ear To The Ground
By Venezuelanalysis.com, Venezuela is once again in the global spotlight as it prepares for what may well be it’s most controversial and highest stake electoral process since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution. The United States and it’s poltically allied countrie have already refused to recognize the results of what they have referred to as an ilegitimate process, accompanied by a fierce corporate media campaign and strangling economic sanctions that have deeply affected the daily lives of Venezuelan citizens.

Venezuelanalysis brings you this special edition podcast of Ear To The Ground to address some of the pressing internal and international issues around the upcoming May 20 presidential elections.

Podcast #3 Ear To The Ground – Venezuela at the Crossroads: May Presidential Elections
00:00/43:57

Check out our previous podcasts here:

Montly Podcast Ear To The Ground: International Solidarity
00:00/54:52
Venezuelanalysis Podcast #1: Can Chavismo Triumph in 2018 Presidential Elections?
00:00/42:52

Venezuela: ‘The economic war has caused huge damage to the country and its people’

‘Venezuelans have time and again shown the world how much they value democracy and free elections’, said Venezuelan activist Eulalia Reyes de Whitney.

Campaigning is well underway for Venezuela’s May 20 national vote to elect the nation’s president and representatives to municipal councils and state legislatures. The elections are being held in the context of the ongoing political polarisation and economic crisis that have wracked the nation over the past few years.

Incumbent President Nicolás Maduro, who has pledged to defend and strengthen the pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution initiated by his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, is currently leading in the polls. His main competitor is Henri Falcon, a former pro-Chávez governor who joined the opposition in 2010.

Fearing a Maduro victory, the United States — which on May 7 announced a new round of sanctions on Venezuela — and the European Union are threatening to not recognise the results. This is despite having demanded Maduro call early elections only months ago.

Venezuela’s main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), has followed suit: having been involved in dialogue talks with the government late last year that included the issue of early elections, the MUD is now calling for a voter boycott and nationwide protests to denounce “fraud”, four days before the election.

However, with election day approaching, divisions within the opposition have opened up, with some sectors swinging behind Falcon’s campaign. Among them are a bloc of opposition MPs that have created the “Let’s Change” platform and former MUD secretary general, Jesus Chuo Torrealba.

Presidential candidate Luis Alejandro Ratti announced on May 8 he was stepping down to support Falcon’s campaign. A meeting between Falcon and the other main opposition candidate, former evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci, was held the following day to discuss the possibility of a united candidate.

Results of a Hinterlace poll released in early May indicate that participation in the elections will be about 63%.

To get a sense of the election campaign and situation in Venezuela today, Federico Fuentes spoke to Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) Brisbane co-convenor Eulalia Reyes de Whitney, who has been back in her home country for the past several months.

Read interview here

Venezuela’s Maduro ‘Will Call New Peace Dialogue if Elected’

Venezuela

TeleSUR English, May 8, 2018 – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has vowed that if he wins the May 20 presidential elections, he will call for a new national peace dialogue to be held in the Dominican Republic and include every political and social force in the Latin American country.

“Once Venezuela chooses me as president… I will call for a great national dialogue for peace,” said Maduro during a campaign event transmitted by national TV.

After several rounds of negotiations late last year in Santo Domingo, opposition leaders decided not to sign an agreement that had been reached between their representatives and those of the government.

Electoral authorities brought forward the date of the elections to May 20, but a part of the opposition is still boycotting them. The Democratic Unity Board (MUD) claims the electoral process lacks transparency and predicts there will be widespread fraud.

Main opposition candidate Henri Falcon ignored the MUD boycott, however, and is running in the elections. He’s currently in second place in the opinion polls, behind President Maduro.

“We have an incapable and inept president, in no condition to generate control and policies that can solve Venezuelans’ problems,” Falcon posted on his Twitter account.

Falcon has severely criticized the MUD, of which he used to be part, for boycotting the elections. On May 4, a day after the MUD reaffirmed their boycott, Falcon said such opposition groups will disappear because of their attitude.

Several organizations and opposition politicians are supporting Falcon, leaving the MUD progressively more isolated.

Timoteo Zambrano, representative at the suspended National Assembly (AN), announced the creation of a parliamentary platform called ‘Let’s Change’ (Cambiemos, in Spanish) in support of Falcon. The group is also supported by representatives Teodoro Campos and the first vice-president of the AN, Julio Cesar Reyes.

Venezuela Rejects New US Sanctions as Pence Demands Suspension of Elections

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Sanctions on Venezuela began with President Obama’s 2015 decree but became harsher with Trump’s August 2017 financial sanctions. (AVN)

By Cira Pascual Marquina

Caracas, May 8, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A new round of US sanctions against Venezuela, this time directed against three individuals and their businesses, was rebuffed this Monday by Samuel Moncada, the Bolivarian Republic’s Vice Minister for Foreign Relations.

Responding to US Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement regarding the measures and his call for other nations in the region to isolate Venezuela, Moncada said, “We don’t accept the United States as court of justice nor as any kind of authority. We are a free country.”

These newest sanctions were announced by Pence during a Monday speech before the Organization of American States, in which he called Venezuela’s upcoming May 20 elections a “sham” and reiterated US demands for the vote to be canceled.

The latest in a long series of US sanctions directed against Venezuela, including harsh financial sanctions barring dealings in PDVSA and Venezuelan sovereign debt, Monday’s measures target three low profile figures who, according to the US government, engage in drug trafficking. The sanctions freeze the assets of these individuals, who have no demonstrated connections to the Bolivarian government, and their 20 companies which are spread between Panama and Venezuela.

In response to Pence’s call to suspend the upcoming elections, Moncada replied “There is zero possibility that the elections will be called off.” He added that the current US government was “the most racist and intolerant one in recent decades,” and that “it has been threatening the whole region.”

At the OAS meeting in Washington, Pence urged countries from the region to impose financial and travel restrictions on the country’s leaders, affirming that “it is time to do more, much more” in relation to Venezuela.

Among the additional steps the Trump administration is reportedly considering are further sanctions targeting the South American country’s oil industry, including a possible oil embargo.

Following the meeting, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued a communique Tuesday confirming its plans to withdraw from the organization that it considers to be “a colonial body at the service of Washington.”

Venezuela’s opposition parties have not commented directly on the latest sanctions, but a number of leading anti-government politicians have endorsed Washington’s hardline stance vis-a-vis Caracas.

For his part, opposition presidential frontrunner Henri Falcon spoke approvingly of Pence’s remarks, calling Venezuela a “disturbance” to the region.

“Venezuela has become a factor of disturbance for the countries of the region,” he said in an interview with Union Radio on Tuesday.

Falcon was himself reportedly threatened with US sanctions after he defied a boycott of the May 20 elections by Venezuela’s main right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, agreeing to a series of electoral guarantees with the Maduro government.

Meanwhile, MUD-aligned opposition leaders Julio Borges and Carlos Vecchio were present in the OAS meeting and asked for more pressure to be put on to Venezuela to prevent the upcoming presidential elections.

In recent months, Borges and Vecchio have been on an international tour lobbying conservative governments throughout the hemisphere and in Europe for further and tougher sanctions against Caracas. Last August, the MUD publicly supported the Trump administration’s economic sanctions targeting Venezuela and its state oil company PDVSA.

Who is Afraid of Venezuelan Democracy?

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Counterpunch – It is astounding, and sinister, that the European Parliament on May 3 passed a resolution (492 in favour, 87 against, 77 abstentions) demanding that Venezuela suspend the presidential elections slated for May 20. Do these European countries think that they are still colonial powers that can demand anything from other countries? Does European arrogance stretch to demanding that another country disregard its own rule of law, its electoral regulations and its negotiated arrangements with the leaders of their opposition?

There was a time when the non-aligned countries believed that a strong, independent Europe would be a healthy counterbalance to the remaining super power. This was wishful thinking, as Europe today seems a flock of lambs following the dictates of a most unbalanced USA president who is determined to overthrow the legitimate, democratic, peaceful, and popular government of Venezuela.

It, of course, is all about the largest deposit of oil reserves in the world that lie in Venezuela and which is coveted by all and sundry. And how dare its government not follow the neo-liberal dictates of Washington, the IMF and the World Bank?

When examining democracy in any place, the first characteristic that comes under scrutiny is the process of elections: if they take place, how they take place and who participates. It is a given that anyone claiming to support democracy must be in favour of elections.

It is necessary when dealing with democracy in Venezuela to quote over and over what the Ex-president of the USA, Jimmy Carter declared: “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

One reason is the effectiveness of the Electoral Power (CNE) and another is the anti-fraud protection of the system, which is digital, written and electronic. There are three guarantees to each vote: a fingerprint, an electronic vote and a paper receipt.

Another characteristic of the 23 elections that have occurred in Venezuela these past 19 years is the robust presence of domestic and international observers. It is important to note that neither the USA,Canada or most European countries accept international observers to their elections. It is all right for these powerful countries to examine lesser poor devil countries, or (“shithole countries” as Trump inelegantly called them) but do not dare to look closely at what we, the powerful, do.  Thus in our lifetime we have seen two USA presidents arrive at the White House under dubious circumstances at best: George W. Bush’s second term and Trump, neither who won the popular vote and were elected by virtue of a complicated, most un-transparent, patronage system of their “electoral colleges”.  Where were the “demands” of the European Parliament in these cases?

We are witnessing before our eyes a scenario of subversion and disqualification of Venezuela’s democracy. The USA, Canada, the European Union, the OEA and the so-called Lima group of lackey right wing governments of the region, are attacking the very elections that for two years they had clamored to take place. The Venezuelan government responded by quoting its laws, that prescribed that the elections were by law to take place in 2018; it was not good enough. They wanted the elections last year.  The government negotiated with the opposition in the Dominican Republic and an April date was agreed upon. Not good enough- the opposition asked for more time and the government again agreed and they settled on the 20 May date.

Now the European Union, says it “does not accept” the elections because there are no “guarantees” without specifying what they mean, they ask for a “return to the constitutional order” without allusion or attempt to know and understand Venezuelan laws and Constitution.

In Venezuela, the vote is secret; the process is orderly, observed by international witnesses and with the participation of opposition candidates. Some opposition leaders have refused to stand for elections, but this is by their own free will, not because of any prohibition or official hostility. Unless they refer to Leopold López, scion of two of the country’s most wealthy families who is in prison, after a lengthy, fair trial, with the best defense lawyers money can buy, who was nevertheless sentenced to 13 years in prison for inciting – in full view of cameras- appalling street violence that killed 46 people. That is the rule of law: people who are proven to have committed violent crimes must pay with prison, regardless of who their families are.

Actually, it is the USA strategy of abstention that the main opposition leaders are following so that the elections can be disqualified. The government is aware of this tactic but has repeatedly asked these opposition parties to stand for election. These no-show candidates are campaigning for abstention, asking the people NOT to vote! What kind of democrats are these that – after aggressively demanding elections now do not want elections and urge people NOT to vote? They are trying to demonize an otherwise sterling electoral system.

In sum, it is a montage, a theater scenario to continue to demonize, antagonize, and sanction a government they wish to overthrow.

Another montage that those very same no-show opposition leaders are simultaneously presenting along with their international allies,as they  shed  crocodile tears, is that they are very worried by the suffering of Venezuelans and are demanding a “humanitarian” action to save them from the ogre of Maduro. (He whose government has built 2 million units of public housing these last 2 years.) They want a humanitarian action like the ones in Syria, Libya, Iraq where their populations were “saved” from their own governments by killing them with soldiers and bombs. “Humanitarian action” is a by-word for invasion. Already Colombia – with its 7 USA military bases- has amassed 3,000 troops on its border with Venezuela “in readiness” for such “humanitarian action.”

The truth is that it is the left wing governments that repeatedly restore and protect democracy in the region. The right-wing governments in Latin America today are unable to command the popular vote and have come to power through corruption (Peru, Colombia, Panamá), fraud (México), coup d’état (Honduras) and with parliamentary and legal coups (Brazil, Paraguay). Macri being the only exception, as he clearly won the elections.

The right wing governments have come together under the axis of the USA implementing a new type of despicable Plan Condor – that plan that in ‘70 assassinated 60,000 union, rural, political and community leaders. Now embolden with the unbalanced man in the White House, they have without shame reached a point that they openly finance the opposition: for example, last month, in Lima, vice-president Pence of the USA publicly gave $16m.to Julio Borges.

What would happen in Canada if China gave $16m to the NDP party, or in the USA if it gave it to the Democrats? How can the USA tears its robes in anguish alleging that Russia “intervened” in its sacred elections by releasing some e-mails, however authentic they could be? How can they not see what the USA does with impunity, with no questioning by the media, in the elections of a long list of countries? And not just Latin American ones – does no reporter remember Ukraine?

The right-wing governments of Latin America have three powerful weapons:

+ The economic war, which in Venezuela has allies in the wealthy elite of impresarios and banks.

+ The help of the international media that has shown so little critical analysis and investigative ability that it once may have had

+ The new legal coups called LAWFARE, by which courts and parliaments are manipulated to criminalize opponents: thus they ensnared Dilma Rousseff and Lula in Brazil, Cristina Fernández in Argentina, and they are trying to do the same to Rafael Correa (who even out of power is seen as a threat), and of course, to Nicolás Maduro.

A year ago, the opposition in Venezuela managed to get a majority in the National Assembly and immediately afterwards, the Venezuelan government accepted the results and did not allege fraud. They won, not because their votes had increased as they were still at 4%, but because many government supporters abstained, as they were disappointed with the economy.

But it has been 5 years of economic war and the population now understands to whom they owe the economic crisis: the leaders of the opposition were the ones who went all over the world to ask powerful nations to boycott and sanction their own country, to deny it financial and diplomatic support and to help them overthrow a government which they are unable to defeat in the polls. Such treason would have been unthinkable in the past.

There is a systematic, strategic plan devised by Washington to deny Venezuelans food and medicines. Its executors are the large corporations, commercial elite and the banks. It could not be clearer. For example, when there is no bread in the bakeries or the price is too high, people start baking their own bread. Then, flour and yeast disappears from the stores. When there are no detergents, people clean with bicarbonate of soda (up to then an extremely cheat product), and then this disappears from the stores. When corn and corn flour is unavailable people buy yucca (another very cheap product), immediately it disappears from the market or its price skyrockets, so much so that there is talk of “a war on the yucca”. These are not cases of an objective “supply and demand” as some may think. It is a conspiracy of an impresario, commercial, financial class that is so rich and is so backed by foreign finance that they do not care if they do not sell or make a profit, what they want is to strangulate the economy and they do not care how much their own people suffer for it. It is a lust for power, to be given to them by foreign powers.

It is clear that the progressive, left-wing government when they again come to power (and it will happen) will have to take serious measures to protect democracy, in a much more efficient and creative way because the right does not respect the rules of representative democracy. It will mean the democratization of the banks, of the media, greater centralization of imports and the implementation of novel judicial regulations to prevent LAWFARE.

The left has no other option than to deepen participatory democracy, to enlarge it, to give the population greater social accountability to prevent corruption and to strengthen the communes. The duly elected National Constitutional Assembly, which is drafting a new constitution,  has shown great wisdom and they must surely be thinking seriously about these measures.

Hinterlaces, the most respected polling company in Venezuela has had some recent interesting results related to the presidential elections of May 20:

+ 86% of Venezuelans reject any international intervention in the country

+ 70% of Venezuelans say they are going to participate in the elections – this is another defeat for the section of opposition, Washington backed, that is calling for abstention

+ 55% state they will vote for Maduro

+ 11% state they will vote for Henri Falcon

+ 2% state they will vote for Javier Bertucci

+ 50% state that they consider the workings of the National Constitutional Assembly as: “Very Good, Good, or Regular to Good”

+ 71% consider that Maduro will win the elections.

There is strong confidence that democracy in Venezuela is alive and well, and that is why the USA, Canada, European Union and its allies are afraid of it.

María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada.