Against Venezuela’s authoritarian turn

May 3, 2017

On May 1, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro signed an executive order to form a Constituent National Assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. Predictably, Maduro's right-wing opponents howled about a lack of respect for democratic rights and procedures, which they themselves routinely violated in seeking the overthrow of Chavismo.

But many on the left see the latest move by the ruling Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) to consolidate its power as a dangerous further lurch toward authoritarianism. Here, we reprint a March 29 statement by Marea Socialista, which joined the PSUV when it was founded in 2007 by the late President Huge Chávez, but left it in 2015 in protest of the course set for the party by Maduro. The statement by Marea Socialista's National Operations Team was first published in Spanish at the Aporrea website and appears here in a version edited by Todd Chretien of the English translation published at the Portal de la Izquierda website.

IN THE first two months of the year, it became obvious that the government had decided to deepen its totalitarian course. What in 2016 was a recurring temptation, marked out by the jolt of the electoral defeat of December 2015, has today become state policy. The government has decided on this course owing to its own weakness and a dramatic loss of social support; it is aiming, preventatively, to cut short growing signs of working-class and popular opposition, which are now beginning to express themselves. The PSUV's (Venezuelan United Socialist Party) top leadership seeks, while conjuring up the danger that it might lose any election it calls, the consolidation of a repressive political regime, thus eliminating the democracy established in the Venezuelan Constitution.

Each day it becomes clearer what the PSUV's top leadership intends to build--namely, a totalitarian political system that, even though it is not yet a classic dictatorship, is certainly taking on some of these characteristics as limitations on civil rights become tighter over time. The most recent and startling evidence of this was the Supreme Court's decision to annul congressional immunity.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

The characteristics of the new regime they are attempting to impose are as follows: a) the elimination of the elections and all recall processes; b) substitute the republic's independent powers and institutions for a de facto government that concentrates decisions in the hands of the president and within the government's elite figures; c) maintain a permanent state of exception, as in fact has been established, by the continuous and unconstitutional renewal of emergency presidential executive orders--thus providing the justification for the elimination of political, civil, economic, social and human rights; and d) the step-by-step elimination, by various means, of the right to freedom of thought, opinion and communications, as well as the classic right of freedom of the press. These last actions include recent attacks on several digital media outlets, among them and the Correo del Caroní newspaper, as well as the intimidation of journalists, including revoking their accreditations, filing legal charges against reporters, and generally persecuting journalists, columnists and editors, etc.

Furthermore, e) the government carries out arbitrary detentions of people regardless of whether they are in the opposition or not, or whether they consider themselves revolutionaries or Chavistas who waver from the official line. These actions entail violating the right to due process, the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and all legal regulations and divisions of power that should prevail in these cases. Moreover, f) The use of unchecked repression by para-state entities against a considerable number of people, leading to selective murders with the aim of normalizing a state of anxiety and fear. The instruments used in these instances are the OLHP (Humanitarian Operations for the People's Liberation) and other armed groups that spread fear in communities, the popular slums of the cities and rural areas, drawing on typically paramilitary measures.

The most emblematic violation of Venezuela's constitutional guarantees in the political realm pertains to the renewal of political parties' official registration statuses. For example, even the government-allied parties that make up the Polo Patriótico (the Patriot Pole), in spite of their submission and obedience to the PSUV's policies, were driven from the electoral field. This suppression of the right of political participation--which began with the proscription of Marea Socialista--is moving in the direction of a single-party political system for which the pusillanimous opposition is an almost a made-to-order cover for the regime's purposes.

The system that the regime is building to replace what is set forth in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has its own economic causes and manifests its growing limitation of social rights in violation of the Constitution. These include: a) a ban on and elimination of all meaningful data necessary to track the state of the economy; b) negotiations, via emergency executive orders, of significant territory to be designated Special Economic Zones. This constitutes a policy of concessions to international finance capital and big corporations. All this has been made clear through concessions granted in the Arco Minero del Orinoco (the Mining Belt of Orinoco), concessions that provoked a significant struggle and that represent an injury to our sovereignty, environment and the life of native communities; c) the approval of the National Budget by the government-controlled Supreme Court, explicitly violating the National Assembly's constitutionally mandated role to debate, review and approve the budget; d) the assumption of national debt and other national and international financial operations, using the same illegal procedures described previously; e) the non-implementation of social legislation addressing the poorest layers and most vulnerable groups of the population, such as the approval of food and health income bonuses for the retired; and f) de facto elimination of the Organic Labor Law, in addition to a long list of other abuses.

Although the application attempt of totalitarian measures is not new, it occurred in a context of political instability that curtailed the imposition of such measures. Free from the danger of electoral contests, the government has now applied these totalitarian measures as state policy. This has allowed them to deepen counter-reforms that dismantle the most progressive social and civil-rights gains won by workers through 2012.

The Collapse and Complicity of the MUD's Leadership

The erratic, confusing and powerless MUD [the right-wing Democratic Unity Roundtable] policies of 2016, and their crisis and downfall at the end of that year, beg an important question: Was their self-induced defeat a mistake, ineptitude or complicity?

It is hard to comprehend how veteran politicians--supported by strong international and local operators, in coordination with an important part of the anti-Chavista intelligentsia--have wasted in less than a year a powerful electoral victory, while turning to demand sanctions by invoking the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Democratic Letter. We reject this request because it is interventionist in character and violates our people's sovereignty. At the same time, we also reject the government's intentions to impede the people's right to protest and express their political will. The OAS request only confirms the interventionist intentions of the MUD's leadership and their incapacity to organize for the independent struggle of the Venezuelan people.

We will not attempt to explain here the reasons for their unprecedented failure, merely pointing out that their leadership's miserable shortcomings are plain to see. We simply intend to expose some facts: a) the most important concern of that leadership--as distant from the people's own interests as the PSUV--was to find a way to take advantage of their electoral triumph to win more control and positions of power within the state apparatus without a moment's consideration of popular demands; b) instead of a united national project for change, they have pursued, since winning a majority in the National Assembly, nothing more than endless debates between the heads of each party that makes up the MUD, with each looking to secure himself a leading position in the next presidential elections--in fact, there are already five presidential candidates announced by the MUD; c) facing this disaster, it is clear that there is a group among the MUD leadership that is willing to cut a deal with the government in order to improve its share in the distribution of oil revenue.

Instead of a change that helps people, what this leadership seeks is to occupy a more privileged seat in a corrupt and unaccountable morass. They simply want to take part in the design of a new political system.

Our Tasks in 2017

Despite the fact that there are many possible scenarios, we encourage our readers to discuss what we consider to be this year's most important tasks. In the first place, in our view, we must make a priority of resisting the totalitarian path being pursued by government. This represents an essential task for all social, economic or political struggles that we will confront in the future. In this regard, we call for the widest possible unity in action to oppose all abuses and violations of the rights and guarantees enumerated in our Constitution. We call for building the broadest and most inclusive movement for the defense of those rights in order to organize all kinds of actions: local, national and international.

In the second place, we think it is essential to promote the organization of struggles to restore our living standards and to confront the plans for economic misery, submission and concessions that are now being developed by those who hold all the power in their hands. These fights include the resistance to the concessions for the Arco Minero del Orinoco, the struggle of retired people to neither starve nor perish for lack of medicines as well as access to proper food and health care benefits. We must fight for a real recovery of the value of our salaries, to demand the validation of all labor rights, and to defend all the social achievements now under assault.

In the third place, with each passing day it becomes more necessary and urgent to build a new political alternative. A political alternative that comes from the people who live by the wages they earn, one that rebuilds our people's national project with critical, and self-critical, evaluations. A new democratic and plural point of reference. An alternative that, in the midst of this crisis, can raise up the creative and mobilizing power of working people.

We are committed to accomplishing these goals.

Further Reading

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