CARACAS, Venezuela – “I wear my heart on the left,” socialists and progressives sometimes like to say. Today leftist hearts are very heavy not only in Venezuela, the land of Hugo Chavez, but in many parts of Latin America which had developed a new “Bolivarian” unity with the socialist experiment coming out of Caracas, and indeed in many parts of the world where a new expression of international anti-imperialist relations had emerged.
It’s time to take a very deep breath – or a deep drink or a deep sleep, whatever your inclination – and begin to figure out what happened.
The Dec. 6 elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly, which until now had held a majority for the coalition PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), produced a massive upset of the Hugo Chavez movement, the Chavistas. The new National Assembly that will take office on January 5, 2016, for a four-year term, has a more than two-thirds supermajority (at least 107 seats) for the opposition MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, or Democratic Unity Roundtable), reducing the PSUV to a mere 55 seats. In addition there are three seats reserved for indigenous people but all of them went to the opposition. It was a crushing defeat whose effects will be felt far into the future.
On Monday in the Plaza Bolivar in central Caracas, a traditional locus of “soapbox” orators and the crowds who listen to them, the square was full of pained, almost crazed outrage and fear over what will become of the Bolivarian Revolution. It was the first national Bolivarian electoral loss in 17 years. A palpable sense of betrayal and sorrow has swept over the supporters of Chavez’ successor, President Nicolas Maduro.
In his concession speech, Maduro admitted to the “adverse results,” but spoke of the country’s democracy and constitution having triumphed, for the reaction on the streets was only one of celebration for the opposition, not the usual violence and disruption that followed from that side after previous losses. Indeed, no one has questioned the impeccably accurate vote managed by the autonomous CNE, the national electoral commission.
In an open letter to Maduro released by Raul Castro, a strong ally and beneficiary of the Bolivarian Revolution, the Cuban President said, “I’m sure that new victories will come for the Bolivarian Revolution under your leadership.” But in reality there is little to be optimistic about right now.
Perhaps the result could have been predicted. The mainstream press in the United States had
cited polls over the last year or more showing MUD being favored over PSUV by anywhere from 20 to 30 percent. International well-wishers for the left tried to hold up their spirits by remembering how critical and biased against the Revolution the U.S. and its media have been for years, and how they were carefully manipulating public opinion for such a result. The Venezuelan left had managed to convince itself that the right wing was weak and divided.
But the classic elements for destroying a socialist movement were all there: economic war and psychological war, monetary speculation, hoarding of essential goods, smuggling of Venezuelan products across the Colombian border, consumer dissatisfaction, widespread charges of corruption and incompetence on the Bolivarian government’s part, and above all the low, low price of oil on the world market, oil being Venezuela’s chief economic asset.
The constant barrage of propaganda against Maduro also had an effect on centrist and even some left-leaning sectors of the electorate who either stayed at home on Sunday or did little to motivate voters to get to the polls. “He’s no Hugo Chavez,” they moaned, failing to take the larger global picture into account. The election turnout was 74.25 percent, within the anticipated range for a National Assembly election, and the polling hours were extended throughout the country for at least an extra hour or as long as voters were lined up; but perhaps an even higher turnout might have kept more seats for the PSUV.
Elections have consequences
The Venezuelan election has global consequences, not just for Venezuela. Internally, the supermajority will permit the opposition to repeal every “mision” – program – of the Bolivarian government: the vast new housing projects, schools and universities, the health care initiatives that have so vastly improved the nation’s health with the aid of Cuban professionals in every corner of the country, the labor laws that have lifted so many of Venezuela’s 30 million citizens out of extreme poverty, and the thousands of infrastructural jobs made possible by the country’s oil wealth. As Maduro stated the morning after the election, “The revolution is the only force that guarantees social peace in the country.”
As t-shirts I saw on election day read, at the polling site where Maduro voted, “Somos la historia que hizo visible El Gigante,” loosely, “The Giant [Hugo Chavez] made people like us visible in history.”
The opposition that just won the election may proceed to impeach Pres. Maduro or schedule a recall election. They can also forbid him from leaving the country to represent Venezuela or conduct diplomatic business for more than five days. They will also release from prison the fascistic criminals who unleashed the anti-government protests after Maduro’s last winning election, in which almost 50 people were killed.
If Chavista forces try, by occupations, marches and demonstrations, to resist the legislative onslaught that leaders of the new National Assembly have promised, they will be met by force and certain violence, thus providing the cover for potential massacres and U.S. or proxy Colombian military intervention. Civil war may ensue.
These are not idle fantasies: Such is the manner in which opposition right-wing forces have acted for decades, and the role of Venezuela’s military, which produced Chavez and which had been loyal to him, cannot be reliably predicted.
Regionally, the Bolivarian Revolution that Presidents Chavez and Maduro led, creating broad Latin American economic cooperation in organizations such as ALBA, Mercosur, Petrocaribe and CELAC that opposed North American hegemony in the hemisphere, will certainly be weakened and will likely have to move its headquarters – to the much smaller and weaker Ecuador or Bolivia? – if it survives at all.
And in the larger world, this successful, peaceful, constitutional, democratic revolution that was already beginning to rewrite the international rules of trade and diplomacy has been routed. The election was a blow to the emerging forces of the BRICS nations and other countries that benefited from Venezuelan commercial exchange, humanitarianism and philanthropy.
More troubling, the world may conclude from the almost two-decade-long Bolivarian experiment that a multi-party electoral strategy toward socialism is, in the end, illusory.
There is no way to sugarcoat it: Within the same year that saw the defeat of left-wing governments in both Guyana and Argentina, the Venezuelan left – more than that, the Venezuelan nation as a whole – has suffered a monstrous setback and will need time to reassess and regroup. U.S. and international solidarity is of the essence.
Photo: A pro-government supporter listens to a radio broadcast as she waits for the results of congressional elections at Plaza Bolivar, in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 6. Ariana Cubillos | AP