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Julie Webb-Pullman: Caracas is Crackers!!

Caracas is Crackers!!

By Julie Webb-Pullman

Where else could you find workers protesting outside the Presidential Palace, not against the Government but against big business and its bosses??!! Monday saw Cocacola workers staking out Miraflores Palace in the hope of getting a minute of President Chavez' time [1], Tuesday it was transport workers' turn to go straight to the top, a strategy symptomatic of the topsy-turvy world that is revolutionary Venezuela.

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Foreign Ambassadors learn about Venezuela's electoral process

When Chavez was elected President in 1998 he was elected completely on his own account, no party behind him, just one man travelling the country pledging to end the endemic corruption, injustice, and gross inequity that plagued the nation. His overwhelming success in the polls, then and since, came almost exclusively from grassroots support, and put the "man without a party" at the top. Although the legislature was reputedly "Chavista" their lengthy deliberations rarely led to a vote, often forcing Chavez to resort to presidential decrees to push reforms through. The middle and upper classes, which controlled business and the bureaucracy, were determined to sabotage his programme of equitable redistribution of the nation's wealth. Chuck in a judiciary protecting the interests of the privileged classes, who had enjoyed almost total impunity for crimes ranging from fraud to murder, and we have a most curious mix - a President at the top developing and trying to implement new policies to benefit the majority of the people and allocating considerable resources to do so, a wildly enthusiastic and committed population base champing at the bit to get their co-operatives and other initiatives up and running – and the bureaucracy through which policy implementation must pass doing its best to stymie their every effort (not least by pocketing significant portions of the funds destined for communities, aided and abetted by widespread incompetence), while big business drove down workers' conditions or just packed up and left, and courts refused to take appropriate action, such as regarding the four murdered Cocacola workers.

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Tibisay Lucena addresses foreign Ambassadorsin Caracas

As a result, the "people" have pretty well given up on going through legal or bureaucratic channels to resolve their problems, instead petitioning the President directly – while the President resorts to decrees to resolve those of the country. A crude and simplistic analysis, but you get the general idea of where they are coming from.

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Voters discuss issues at one of the many Hot Corners in Caracas

Only in 2007 did a political party finally form behind Chavez - the PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela – and theirs are the candidates standing in the November 23 regional and municipal elections to stave off what is shaping up to be another attempt by the right to undermine Chavez.

Currently "Chavistas" hold more than 20 of the 23 regional and municipal positions, but the loss of the Referendum vote in December 2007 sent a stern warning that all is not rosy in the pink part of town.

Belgian political scientist Eric Toussaint commented at the time, "The failure of the Yes campaign can be imputed to the loss of support for Chavez in his own camp, as he himself acknowledged on the night of 2-3 December 2007. Some 7,300,000 people voted for Chavez in December 2006, giving him a lead of 3 million votes over his main adversary, Manuel Rosales Total votes in favour of the referendum proposals amounted to just over 4,300,000 votes, in other words 3 million less than a year previously." And that is despite the socio-economic situation of the majority of Venezuelans improving immensely over the last ten years courtesy of the raft of new policies and Presidential decrees, improved access to culture and education, and far greater enjoyment of civil and political rights – and a significant decline in corruption and improved efficiency in the bureaucracy. As one worker said, "Before, functionaries would pocket 90% of the funds and only 10% would get to the projects they were destined for, but now they only pocket 10% and 90% gets to the project."

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Voters exchanging opinions at a Hot Corner in Caracas

However it would be foolish to write off the PSUV's chances on 23 November - in spite of evident frustration with the slowness of reforms, all indications are that the large majority of Venezuelans are still very much behind Chavez and their socialist project. Whilst the right-controlled media are beating up a storm trying to discredit the upcoming electoral process, the National Electoral Council (CNE) is conducting itself with rigorous openness and transparency. On Friday all Ambassadors accredited to Venezuela were invited to a seminar where Tibisay Lucena, Director of the CNE, explained to them the Venezuelan electoral process, and the technology being used for electronic voting, including security measures and the protection of privacy.

International observers have found the elections since Chavez came to power essentially to be open, fair, and clean. The problem for the electorate is not likely to be Bush-style shenanigans with the voting machines, but the rate of abstention – if, as in December 2007 millions of Chavistas stay away from the polls, the result could well be the loss of several regions to the right.

However there is a big difference between a referendum with 70+ proposed Constitutional changes, and the election of regional legislators and mayors. The former was always going to be an almost impossible ask – getting people to vote a blanket YES on so many contentious issues – whereas the latter is a simple matter of who they want to run their local affairs.

It remains to be seen just how frustrated the people have become with the slowness of reform, and whether this frustration will translate into a massive show of no-confidence in the PSUV. Stay tuned as I canvas the people over the next week to get the views from below - next stop, the Caracas barrio of Guaicapuro.

[1] See video: Ex-Cocacola workers demonstrate at


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