Amid reports of military movements, violent anti-government attacks and plot rumors, the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez appears to be stepping up the tempo of its movement toward a Latin American brand of socialism with unique, still evolving, characteristics.
Chanting the Spanish equivalent of “Every 11 has its 13,” a million people rallied in Caracas April 13 and heard Chavez outline progress toward his proposed Unified Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV). The slogan refers to April 13, five years ago, when masses of people forced U.S.-backed right-wingers to give up on their April 11 coup.
Chavez welcomed a contingent, 16,000 strong, of PSUV “promoters” on April 19. That number is projected to grow to 70,000 by May 26. They will be organizing 20,000 “socialist battalions” whose representatives will participate in a three-months-long founding congress charged with developing a party program. The party’s membership will vote on the program on Dec. 2. The process being supervised by the National Electoral Council.
In speeches, Chavez appears to some as having dealt with leaders of the three friendly left parties still outside the PSUV somewhat abusively, particularly those of the left-center Podemos Party who are state governors. He has publicly welcomed individual members of the reluctant Fatherland for All and Communist parties into the PSUV.
With “no plan to eradicate private property,” Chavez said on April 13, property must nonetheless “subordinated to the national interest and the socialist project.”
The president reiterated his call for “communal power” as embodied in the 19,000 community councils already formed, each with 200-400 families, and in new workers’ councils being discussed in workplaces.
Chavez promised on April 22 to enforce legislation stabilizing charges to patients treated in private medical settings. He warned that non-complying private clinics — there are 3,600 of them — would be moved into the public sector. Chavez told 2,000 medical graduates recently that a “single national system of pubic health” would eventually replace Venezuela’s combined public-private health system.
On April 30, Chavez announced a 20 percent increase in workers’ minimum salary — “now the highest in South America” — and a six-hour workday. He also signaled Venezuela’s departure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and renewed threats to leave the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States.
The president recently announced changes to the Vuelvan Caras mission, charged with preparing workers to build and work within cooperatives. Highlighting the social rather than the private-property orientation of the cooperative movement, the government now designates the massive project as “Mision Che Guevara.”
The fifth summit of the ALBA nations (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) convened in Barquisimento, Venezuela, on April 29. Leaders of Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Haiti were joined by delegations from five other nations, including Ecuador. Plans were laid to send Venezuelan health and education programs to ALBA nations and supply them with Venezuelan oil, financed 50 percent by the Chavez government.
At the summit meeting President Chavez announced that the four-year-old Mision Sucre, with 513,372 university level students — 81,000 on full scholarship — and 14,000 professors, is being “internationalized” in view of growing numbers of foreign students within the program.
Meanwhile, there were darkening clouds on the horizon. Bombs exploded in Miranda while Chavez was speaking April 13 in Caracas. In response to Colombian paramilitary incursions into Venezuela, Army Chief Raul Baduel posted 15,000 troops to Zulia, a center ofseparatist agitation, to reinforce military control along Venezuela’s border with Colombia.
Officials blamed Colombian paramilitaries for the April 18 murders of two prison directors in Tachira state, which is said to be “totally infiltrated by paramilitaries.” Analysts suspect that U.S soldiers and mercenaries are working in tandem with right-wing Colombian paramilitaries along the border.
On April 19, Venezuelan police arrested Raul and Thomas Guillen, father and son, on suspicion of plotting to kill Chavez. News reports at the time identified Raul Guillen as the CIA’s “most trusted asset” in Venezuela in the 1980s and as having organized a CIA-assisted cocaine smuggling operation in 1993.
U.S. lawyer Eva Golinger claimed April 29 that Washington is funding more than 300, nongovernmental organizations, in Venezuela. “They are constructing tools for finishing off what is going on here and blocking the process of transformation,” she said.
Chavez has predicted that destabilization plans backed by Washington will culminate on May 28, the day when demonstrators are expected to protest his government’s refusal to renew the broadcast license of the private television station RCTV. That outlet is widely seen as having facilitated the failed April 2002 coup by broadcasting disinformation during the coup and then, after Chavez’s supporters filled the streets to demand his return, refusing to provide coverage of their actions.