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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The red hurricane sweeps Venezuela by Federico Fuentes, Caracas

Following Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s call to not “leave the streets for one single day” of the campaign to approve the proposed constitutional reforms in a referendum on December 2 that would significantly deepen Venezuela’s transformation towards socialism, the “Yes” campaign has kicked into gear.

Within the space of a week there has been a dramatic change in mood, as the “red hurricane” has unleashed itself across Venezuela. In the eye of the storm are the PSUV militants, members of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), who are the motor force behind the campaign.

I got a sense of this shift last Sunday (November 11), when Chavistas gathered at the airport and along the drive to Miraflores [the presidential palace] to greet the president returning from his battle in Chile [at the November 8-10 Ibero-American Summit]. With activists from my local socialist battalion (the grassroots units of the PSUV), we went to hold up signs and play revolutionary music along one of the main streets Chavez would drive down.

Cars pulled up to grab posters to stick in their windows. Horns beeped, and passengers yelled “Si, si”, and “Que vive Chavez”. More and more of the cars driving by were covered in red posters or had red flags waving.

This was a sharp change from earlier in the week. On Wednesday (November 7), an opposition student march had gone to the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and attacked Chavista students. With 150 Chavista students holed up in the social work department with no escape route, they threw rocks at the windows and burned the doors.

In some respects, this march seems to have marked the end of any real opposition campaign for a “No” vote in the referendum. It followed a sizeable rally the previous Saturday and the surprise announcement by ex-defence minister and long-time Chavez ally, Raul Baduel, calling on people to vote against the reforms.

However, the student violence exposed the opposition as running out of steam. Despite media spin, very few did not have an impression of the opposition students as fascist thugs. The following Saturday, the opposition organised a dismal march, and two days later around 50 people turned up to their “mass mobilisation” to block city streets.

In contrast, hundreds of thousands have flocked to the “Yes” cavalcades that have been organised across the country. No matter where you go in Caracas, you walk past people in red handing out leaflets in support of the constitutional reforms.

On the day Chavez returned from Chile, I had been attending my local socialist battalion, where activists were discussing the “Yes” campaign. It was pointed out that cooking gas had become very hard to find. One man explained that the government had nationalised a number of gas distribution companies, but not the one that supplied this area. A woman argued this was part of an opposition plan to provoke discontent, and, recalling how they had survived the two-month-long bosses lockout in 2002 without cooking gas, insisting it wouldn’t work because the community was even more conscious and organised now.

The battalion resolved to organise a meeting with other local battalions, community councils and gas workers to debate the problem out and seek a solution — including demanding nationalisation if necessary.

The battalion discussed the planned structure of the “Yes” campaign, with the elected spokesperson explaining the decisions at the “socialist circumscription” (made up of the elected spokespeople from 10 battalions). A problem arose: the circumscription had reorganised itself along the lines first proposed by the national promoters’ committee. This was later changed, because experience on the ground had shown it to be problematic.

Later, speaking to some of the activists, they noted that one problem they continually faced was that in many cases the general line coming from above did not fit the reality of what was occurring below. This had create unnecessary confusion, but that over time it was being resolved, and that the grassroots were making their presence felt.

On Wednesday [November 14], I tagged along with activists from another battalion, this time in Barrio 23 de Enero [one of the largest and most militant poor neighbourhoods in Caracas], as they went around their local neighbourhood door to door to distribute the reforms. As they were quick to point out, they were not just any battalion, but the one Chavez himself belonged to. As is usually the case, the overwhelming majority were women.

The response was once again an overwhelming “Si, si”. With each positive response the group would break into one of the many campaign tunes that echo through the streets, in some cases neighbours joined in.

My sense is that many who only a week ago who were unsure about the reforms have now come solidly into the “Yes” camp. Seeing the true face of what an opposition victory would mean with the violence at UCV, the impact of the growing “red hurricane”, with massive “Yes” cavalcades, and Chavez’s dignified intervention in Chile has seen many people swept up into the “Yes” campaign.

However there is still a dangerous road ahead. Key is ensuring
that the biggest possible vote is obtained. The course of the Venezuelan revolutionary process has been one of legitimising every major step forward with a mandate via the ballot box. Perhaps more than ever before, this referendum aims to be a mandate for a massive leap forward in the revolution.

This means that Venezuela is entering a new, more dangerous phase. Although the opposition know they will almost certainly lose the referendum, they also know how much is at stake. This means they will try everything — including acts of violence and terrorism — to try and impede the reforms, seeking to limit the “Yes” vote so as to claim the greatest mandate to continue their campaign of destabilisation.

[Abridged from a November 15 post on Federico Fuentes’ Venezuela Analysis blog, . Fuentes is a member of the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau.]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #732 21 November 2007.

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