Responding to his government’s unexpected defeat in the Dec. 2 referendum vote on constitutional reform, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said Jan. 6 on his regular “Alo Presidente” television program, “This will be the year of the three R’s — review, rectify, and re-advance.”

“Progress toward socialist revolution,” he explained, must fit “the capacities or possibilities of the collective. I accept it: That was one of my mistakes.” Specifically: “Vanguards must not part from the masses … I will be with you. That’s why I have to slow down.”

The week before, he pardoned key participants in the failed April 2002 anti-government coup and the oil industry lock-out later that year. Cabinet assignments have been rearranged within his government, and new ministers brought in.

Opening the National Assembly on Jan. 11, Chavez focused on contradictions between “words pledged, offers made, and sworn commitments” and the realities of people’s daily lives, among them “insecurity, food shortages, prisons, corruption, impunity, and bureaucracy.” He declared that “the supreme task of our revolution, much more important than full petroleum sovereignty … is finding solutions to people’s day-to-day problems.”

Inflation last year averaged 22.7 percent, essential foods are not always available, and all but 30 percent of Venezuela’s food supply still has to be imported. Citing “crime, insecurity, corruption,” Chavez warned that “If we don’t stop them, they will turn into the biggest enemies of our revolution.”

Observers report a wave of complaints about newly introduced health care services, problems with Bolivarian schools, and faltering agricultural and industrial cooperatives. According to aporrea.org, President Chavez told the National Assembly, “The social missions will be reviewed and recast during the first trimester of 2008 [to] strengthen and make them more efficient.”

Gregory Wilpert, writing for the Venezuelanalysis web site, suggests that failings at the local level gave credibility to a virulent right-wing media offensive that trashed ideas of a socialist future and was instrumental in defeating the referendum on constitutional reform.

Introspection and reassessment set the stage for the Jan. 12 founding convention in Caracas of the new Venezuelan Unified Socialist Party (PSUV), attended by delegates chosen by community-based “socialist battalions.” Addressing the Assembly, Chavez called for improved strategies to communicate the “benefits of socialism” and counteract opposition propaganda.

Acknowledging the rise of discordant elements within his revolutionary movement, Chavez urged formation of a coalition called the “Patriotic Pole,” to include the PSUV, the Venezuelan Communist Party and the Homeland for All Party — “true nationalists” and “patriots.” He told the National Assembly the goal is to defeat the “counter-revolution” in gubernatorial and mayoral elections later this year.

Chavez’ inclusion of the two smaller parties in a unity coalition may signify acceptance of their separate identities. He has pressured them to close down and be absorbed into the PSUV.

Wilpert pointed out that behind closed doors, Chavez advisers had identified 33 constitutional articles ripe for change, while the National Assembly proposed 36 more revised articles to be submitted to the public. The one month between the Assembly’s approval of all 69 articles and the vote itself was too short for the public adequately to discuss and understand proposals remarkable for their complexity.

Left out of the referendum process, three million people voting for Chavez in 2006 abstained in December, thus assuring the referendum’s defeat. Reassessment will reveal “flaws in the top-down and rushed process, in the president-centered aspects of the proposals and in the inefficiency of government programs,” Wilpert observed.

Chavez’ supporters have new ideas on strengthening local organizing, raising popular consciousness, redefining federal-regional governmental relations, and incorporating social movements and nationalist-minded businesspeople into the Bolivarian movement.

For Chavez, building community councils is crucial. He recently announced that approval in Caracas of potential mayoral and gubernatorial candidates throughout Venezuela will depend upon their commitment to “people’s power” and council autonomy.

atwhit @ roadrunner.com

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