How can the right be defeated in Venezuela?
Since February 12, Venezuela has been at the center of Western media attention. Images of students protesting and being beaten by the police have been making their way around the Internet, with a slogan provided by the right-wing leadership of the opposition: "La salida está en la calle" ("The salida is on the streets," with the word salida having the double meaning of "exit" as well as "solution" in Spanish).
The mainstream media have portrayed these events as yet another wave of peaceful struggle for freedom against a violent and corrupt government, led by President Nicolás Maduro, whose one-year-old administration has caused disastrous economic conditions for the people of Venezuela. But who are the people taking to the streets? Who is perpetrating the violence?
Alexander Marín is a student organizer and member of Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), a group working within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), founded in 2007 by supporters of the late Hugo Chávez. Marín talked to about the nature of the protests rocking Venezuela, where they are headed and the state of the revolution today.
COULD YOU start by telling us a bit about your personal political trajectory as an active member of the revolutionary current Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide)?
BEFORE I start, I want to send warm regards to you and to everybody who's going to read this interview. It's a pleasure for us to give our opinion about what's going on in our country.
First, my initial responsibilities were as a leader in student organizations and co-governing organisms ["community councils" as they are called]. At the same time, I've been one of the founders, as well as a committed member of the Juventud del PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela Youth).
I've now spent several years learning from and building with Marea Socialista, a political current which has stood for the right to raise criticisms within the revolution. Today, I work with the national Coordinating Team for our current, participating in union struggles, as well as struggles of the community and, of course, the youth.
WHAT WOULD you say is the social character of the protests since mid-February? What motive or motives have pushed the people to go out to the streets?
TODAY, WE are clearly facing an attack from sectors of the national right with the support of sectors of U.S. imperialism. The social base of these protests is primarily composed of sectors of the middle class and university students.
They are not taking to the streets for any specific demands; they clearly have a political motive, and that is to block the revolutionary process completely. This is shown by the development of these protests with the participation of groups trained for confrontation in the streets. These groups have set their fundamental task as seizing small territorial spaces within middle- and upper-class areas. In no way do these protests represent the working class of the country.
FOR THE most part, the U.S. media have portrayed the events as a definitive proof that Maduro's administration is a failure. With inflation running at over 50 percent and the high levels of insecurity, everything is seen as the result of bad management by the government. What would you say are the main factors causing these problems?
IT'S OBVIOUS that with the death of Chávez, a crisis of incalculable consequences has opened in the revolutionary process. The political regime has been hit very hard by this, and it, in turn, affects directly the economy of our country.
Chávez transferred governmental power to Maduro, but the task of building leadership rests too narrowly in his hands as an individual. That's where the central problem lies. With Maduro's leadership not being consolidated, the capitalist sectors of the economy are putting up an extensive fight to regain control over oil revenues. This has generated the "economic war" that on the surface explains the scarcity, hoarding and the exaggerated prices.
Even prior to this crisis, the government has had the wrong approach, choosing measures that negatively impact the people. This reality has created discontent and a demobilization on the part of popular sectors that support the revolutionary process. At the same time, it has made some of them demand the government change course toward anti-capitalism, based on their experience of struggle; for example, as was the case with the autoworkers. [For more on this struggle, see "Venezuelan workers demand nationalization of automotive industry"]
That being said, as I was saying before, the protests we're confronting today have nothing to do with this situation. It's neither the workers nor the barrios who are protesting; on the contrary, the small groups who are in the streets today are the main beneficiaries of the political mistakes of the government. Their only interest is to recapture their full control of revenues to further the private accumulation of capital.
AT THIS moment, it seems like the right is divided. Could you tell us about the differences that are emerging in the opposition today, and what this means for the direction that these protests are taking and might take from now on?
THE RIGHT finds itself today in a clear dispute over its leadership. The difference is tactical, but they have a strong unity over the need for this government to go.
On the one hand, Henrique Capriles Radonski tries to show the face of dialogue and democracy--an image that is destroyed once you see his history, which is full of conspiracies and the poor management in the [regional municipal] administration he directs today.
On the other hand, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado represent the most radical sector--the one that doesn't want to wait one more minute, and which thinks that, faced with the contradictions of the revolutionary process, now is the time to challenge Maduro's government through insurrectionary means. At the end of the day, they are two faces of the Venezuelan right wing with a common plan.
LEOPOLDO LÓPEZ and María Corina Machado aren't strangers to Venezuelan politics, but their careers as leaders of the opposition are lesser known at an international scale. Who are they and what role have they played for the past 15 years of the Bolivarian Revolution?
LEOPOLDO LÓPEZ and Henrique Capriles Radonski come from the same roots--they are both founders of Primero Justicia (Justice First), a party of the country's wealthy classes that also played a vanguard role during the coup in April 2002 against Chávez and the Venezuelan people.
María Corina is the daughter of one of the richest businessmen of the country and is very well connected to the national business sectors. She started her career with an organization called Súmate (Join Up), which tried to establish itself as a parallel National Electoral Board during the years of conspiracy against Chávez's government.
Anyway, some are better known than others, but all of them are representatives of the capitalist sectors with leading roles in the offensive against the Bolivarian Revolution.
HOW HAS the government reacted to these protests?
THERE'S NO doubt that the government's reaction to the violence has been reasonable, as it's followed the constitutional framework, and there are really only a few cases in which one can identify an exaggerated use of force. The deaths have been mostly due to the right wing's actions--such as stringing tight wires across streets and barricades, which has led to decapitation of at least one motorcycle rider.
Politically, the government's response has been bad, however. It continues to want dialogue with these sectors and keeps taking the wrong measures in the economic arena--as was shown with the application of SICAD II [Supplemental Administration for Foreign Currency; for an analysis of this measure in Spanish, see "Presidente Maduro anuncia creación del Sicad II"] and Finance Minister Nelson Merentes' approach to the International Monetary Fund. These are measures that only further complicate the situation.
WHERE DO you think these protests are headed? What can happen?
THE PROTESTS are geared toward overthrowing the government. They may or may not succeed at this--it all depends on how people act in the revolution. My personal opinion is that these demonstrations don't have a social base, and so the protesters are going to get tired. This is going to force the right to take new measures to guide the mobilization.
What's clear is that the right is on the offensive--which is why we have to push for the government's need to recover its support by taking a consistent anti-capitalist path. Negotiations [with the right] are of no use, and as long as Maduro doesn't adopt measures in favor of the people, he might be opening up the possibility for the right to achieve its goal.
TO WHAT extent do you believe the United States is participating in these events?
THIS ANSWER doesn't need much of an explanation. It's obvious that the U.S. government is married to the idea of defeating the Bolivarian process. Its participation is clear--we have no doubt about that.
IT'S ALREADY been 15 years since the start of the Bolivarian Process, and a year since the death of Chávez and Nicolás Maduro's assumption of power. How would you describe the current state of the revolution?
TODAY, THE revolution is at a crossroads. The participation of workers and the communities in the political struggle is necessary. It's urgent that we adopt measures that are very different to the ones that have been taken. In 2012 alone, we lost $20 billion to capital flight, and a similar amount left the country in 2013. There have been problems with cash flow, and there's a clear deterioration of the conquests of the years of revolution.
We need a revolution within the revolution, where we fully defeat sectors of capital and the bureaucracy. In Marea Socialista, we are convinced that this is possible--there is an enormous social base committed to the legacy of Chávez that, sooner or later, will assume a leading role to force the government to provide the necessary changes, as well as guarantee the continuation of the Bolivarian revolution.
HOW DO you see Marea Socialista's role in the continuation of this revolutionary process?
OUR JOB is to transform Marea Socialista into a political actor of some strength. Otherwise, we won't be any more than a needle in a haystack.
Today, we are successfully working in universities, workplaces and the community at large, and we are very pleased with what we've achieved, although not content. We know we still have a long way to go, and we assume this task as the sharpest and most absolute of our responsibilities. We have pushed for the creation of wide structures such as the case of Patria Socialista (Socialist Homeland), for fronts within the popular movements, etc.
Today, we feel that our politics are helping many to understand the situation and organize. We are convinced that revolutions are made by the people, not the vanguards. We therefore believe that the best role we can play is to become a tool for the people to organize in the political struggle to overthrow the bureaucracy and capital, and promote more socialism and more revolution.