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Ten years after coup, Venezuela vigilant despite gains

Sunday, April 22, 2012
By Owen Richards

“April 13, the great day of victory ten years ago, opened the way to the independence and unity of our Latin America and the Caribbean … We showed that a people united will never be defeated”, said Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez from the “People’s Balcony” of Miraflores Palace, during a commemoration of the April 13 revolution that toppled a short-lived business-military coup that aimed to crush the Chavez presidency.

March commemorating April 13 revolution.
The coup attempt was in response to Chavez’ pro-poor policies. Specifically, the capitalists were desperate to stop Chavez getting hold of the state oil company – and the largest corporation in Latin America – Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), and putting its revenues at the service of the poor. They kidnapped Chavez and held him hostage. However, mass uprising of the poor and working class, along with the bulk of the military defeated the coup attempt within 48 hours and restored Chavez to the presidency.

Since 2002, the revolution has been able to advance thanks largely to the new balance of forces the revolution brought about. However, the process still faces a number of serious threats. Coming up to the presidential elections of October 7, the next few months will be especially dangerous. During Chavez’s speech, he called for the revolutionary forces to “be alert in all these days and months to come”, and announced the creation of a “special anti-coup plan” that involves the formation of a “special civic-military command” to defend against any threat.

The threat of the opposition carrying out extra-parliamentary violence, sabotage or subterfuge continues to rise as the election date approaches and polls continue to show the extreme unlikelihood of the opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, defeating Chavez at the ballot box.

Carlos Sanchez of North American Opinion Research (NAOR) said “we see the victory of Hugo Chavez on October 7 as an irreversible tendency”. Sanchez was referring to the findings of recent NAOR research that found Chavez has 60% backing, while his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has 56% support of the electorate. Meanwhile, Chavez’s opponent Capriles Radonski has a rejection level of 57%.

On the electoral front, battle lines are beginning to be drawn, with the revolution’s social missions taking center stage. An election strategy document drawn up by the opposition reveals the opposition’s bind: “What is the dilemma we confront? In accord with surveys of popular opinion, if the people think we’re going to abandon the missions, we run the risk of losing a very important number of votes, but at the same time, if we try to remedy the former problem by championing the missions without an original, critical position toward them, many people will conclude that it’s best to stick with the missions’ original father (Chavez)”.

The massive popularity of the missions owes itself to their immense achievements. To date, for example, 1,482,543 people have achieved literacy via Mission Robinson; 1,400,000 people have had vision restored through Mission Miracle; and more than 745,000,000 people have accessed public health through the Within the Barrio mission.

Capriles Radonski’s opposition has begun labeling the missions as organizations of “political blackmail”, while on the other hand proposing to introduce a law that will “give a legal status to the missions”. This contradictory position is not likely to gain much traction with Venezuelan voters, as it is common knowledge that the opposition has long attacked the missions, and vehemently opposed president Chavez’s 2007 attempt to institutionalize them - just as they are now calling for five years later.

In the heightened political atmosphere of the looming elections, the revolutionary forces have continued to mobilize. The PSUV has continued its nation-wide door knocking campaign, meeting face to face with 1,750,120 Venezuelans. President Chavez tweeted on Thursday, “Let’s go, everyone united under the direction of the Command of the National Carabobo Campaign … Everyone together! To the streets!

[Owen Richards maintains the blog Venezuela: translating the revolution.]

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