The Venezuelan revolution, which has given hope to the poor not only in that country but also throughout Latin America and across the world, is going through a critical phase. Following the presidential election last October, in which Hugo Chávez was convincingly re-elected with 55 percent of the vote, his new term of office commenced on 10 January.
However, the President was unable to be sworn in on that date. Since his fourth operation for cancer in the Cuban capital Havana on 11 December he has reportedly remained in a critical condition, suffering from such post-operative conditions as a severe respiratory infection.
As Chávez has been central to his country’s revolutionary transformation, the counter-revolutionary rightist opposition sees in his grave illness a chance to undo the gains of the revolution and to return this now proud independent nation to the role of lickspittle to US imperialism that it previously played.
Unable to defeat Chávez at the ballot box, the right resorted to a specious reading of the constitution to claim that the president’s incapacity on 10 January necessitated the holding of fresh elections, clearly intending to whip up protests on the street and to intensify international pressures on this basis.
However, on 4 January, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that the new presidential term would begin on 10 January, in keeping with the constitution.
Maduro explained that the official presidential swearing in ceremony could be done at a later date by the supreme court, in line with Articles 231-235 of Venezuela’s constitution, once Chávez returns from his cancer treatment in Cuba.
Maduro called on “all Venezuelans to read their copy of the constitution” where provisions relevant to the current situation of the country are clearly outlined.
For example, Article 231 clearly explains that: “The candidate elected shall take office as President of the Republic on 10 January of the first year of his constitutional term, by taking an oath before the National Assembly. If for any supervening reason, the person elected President of the Republic cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly, he shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.”
Furthermore, despite the claims by the opposition that a new election should be called, Article 233 makes it clear that this is only the case if a “an elected President becomes permanently unavailable”, which does not apply in this instance.
Despite Chávez’s overwhelming electoral mandate and the constitutional provisions, Maduro warned that the right wing is attempting to use the president’s current absence to force a new election in what he labelled an “accelerated coup d’état”.
Maduro revealed that opposition leader Guillermo Aveledo recently sent a letter to all ambassadors in Venezuela in which he developed “a false thesis of what is stated in the national constitution”.
He added that: “In recent hours, the misinterpretations of the right have increased, as they believe that their hour has come. They have launched a national and international campaign against the Venezuelan people, looking to take advantage of the circumstances in order to destabilise the country.” The objective of these plans is to “reverse and destroy the Bolivarian revolution”.
The opposition campaign to force new elections continued with remarks by Julio Borges, national coordinator of the main opposition party Justice First, who said that if the swearing-in ceremony did not take place on 10 January then, “people should get ready to protest and rebel” and that “we are preparing a real campaign, which will involve going to institutions, countries, embassies and organisations outside of the country”.
On 7 January, the head of the Venezuelan Conference of Bishops in the Catholic Church demanded new elections, with the government pointing out in response that “high echelons of the Church took an active part in the 2002 coup attempt (against President Hugo Chávez)”. Venezuela’s opposition forces have previously tried coup d’état, economic sabotage and special referenda to try to remove Hugo Chávez from office and derail the revolution.
That all such options remain on the right’s agenda was highlighted by Henrique Capriles, the defeated candidate in last October’s election, who stated that: “The armed forces also have a role to play to play here … of respecting the constitution.”
Venezuela’s National Assembly began its new term of office on 5 January and re-elected Diosdado Cabello as President of the Assembly. During the session, Cabello explained that “Hugo Chávez was elected president and he will continue to be president beyond January 10. No one should have any doubt … this is the constitutional route.”
Venezuela’s Attorney General, Cilia Flores, also explained on 6 January that Hugo Chávez can be sworn in before the Supreme Court when he returns from Cuba. On 9 January, the country’s supreme court ruled that this was a legally correct procedure
In response to the increasing attempts to force Hugo Chávez out of office Cabello appealed to opposition leaders to act responsibly on the day of the inauguration and warned: “We will stop any attempt to destabilise the government … There will be a big gathering here in Caracas on 10 January. All of Venezuela is going to come to Caracas and be in front of the Miraflores (presidential) Palace. The people will be on the streets.”
Cabello further pointed out that Hugo Chávez left for Cuba with the unanimous permission of the National Assembly to undergo surgery as President and that the National Assembly had further given the president permission to stay in Cuba for so long as his medical condition required.
The government also warned against sections of the private sector causing shortages of staple goods by “hoarding and speculating” in the coming period in order to provoke destabilisation and unrest.
The revolutionary leadership in Venezuela has reacted to this reactionary campaign with a mass popular mobilisation based on the line that ‘Chávez is the people’, which can serve to both defend and deepen the revolution.
The New York Times reported on 10 January: “Mr Chávez has long said, ‘I am the people, a mantra that his supporters are invoking as they plan to don the sash the president would have worn had he been able to attend his inauguration, symbolically becoming presidents themselves.
“‘Anyone who has a sash, bring it along, because tomorrow the people will be invested as president of the republic, because the people are Chávez,’ Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly, said Wednesday. ‘All of us here are Chávez, the people in the street are Chávez, the lady who cooks is Chávez, the comrade who works as a watchman is Chávez, the soldier is Chávez, the woman is Chávez, the farmer is Chávez, the worker is Chávez; we’re all Chávez.’” (‘Would-be inauguration in Venezuela for Chávez’ by William Neuman)
Hundreds of thousands responded to the call in a massive show of support for the revolution and for Chávez personally. Vice President Maduro urged the crowd “to send a shout of gigantic love on the count of three to our Commander Chávez”, after which he called on them to recite an oath of “absolute loyalty” to Comrade Chávez and to the socialist revolution.
In response the crowd raised their hands and repeated in unison: “I swear by the Bolivarian Constitution that I will defend the presidency of Commander Chávez in the streets, with reason, with truth and with the strength and intelligence of a people that has liberated itself from the yoke of the bourgeoisie.”
The Financial Times reported: “Bolivarian militias paraded beneath the ‘people’s balcony’ of Miraflores presidential palace, where Venezuela’s effervescent leader has often addressed loyal supporters for hours on end, lambasting the US ‘empire’ and lionising Venezuela’s independence hero, Simón Bolívar. In his absence, the militias chanted slogans like ‘We are all Chávez!’ and sang classic revolutionary anthems such as ‘Tremble, Oligarchs’.” (‘Absent Chávez wins show of solidarity’, by Benedict Mander, 12 January 2013)
Joining them, in a massive show of international solidarity, were the government representatives of 22 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay, as well as senior ministers from Argentina, Cuba and Ecuador. Besides this, in the days immediately following, the presidents of Argentina and Peru travelled to Havana to express their personal solidarity with Hugo Chávez. The presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador had visited previously.
Speaking to the masses at the people’s inauguration, the Nicaraguan president, Comrade Daniel Ortega, denounced the opposition as “instruments of imperialism and enemies of the poor”.
Vice President Maduro gave a clear warning to the counter-revolutionaries not to push their luck too far:
“Some governors [clearly referring to defeated presidential candidate Capriles, who is the governor of Miranda state, whilst 20 out of 23 state governors are from Chávez’s United Socialist Party, PSUV] out there have come out to make declarations, playing with words. We say to them, ‘Stop the waffling’. If you don’t recognise the legitimate government of President Chávez, we are evaluating legally very forceful actions, because if you don’t recognise me, I’m not obligated to recognise you. It’s that simple.” He added: “Watch your words and your actions. Take care not to get involved in coups and destabilising adventures.”
Solidarity was also extended to President Chávez by the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), which actively supports the revolution but has declined to join the PSUV. In a 10 January article, PCV politburo member Carolus Wimmer wrote:
“The pro-imperialist right wing is looking for legalistic subterfuges to twist the sovereign will of the people and attack President Chávez. For the PCV there is no doubt that the new presidential term of President Hugo Chávez, which is to last six years, begins today, 10 January …
“President Chávez has been re-elected by a majority of voters, which is the embodiment of popular sovereignty constitutionally established in Article 5, which literally states that ‘sovereignty resides in the people and is not transferable’. Thus both in fact and in point of law the will of the people is clearly expressed that their president is and will continue to be Hugo Chávez.”
Comrade Wimmer noted that, while speaking softly, US imperialism was provoking the Venezuelan pro-coup elements to aggressively attack the Bolivarian government. He insisted that “revolutionary and anti-imperialist forces must respond forcefully and with organisation to defend the popular will expressed on 7 October. We also call upon the revolutionary forces of the continent to express their solidarity in various ways with President Chávez and the Bolivarian process.”
The revolutionary struggle led by Hugo Chávez represents the most determined attempt to establish a new socialist state in several decades. It therefore needs and is entitled to command the most resolute and absolute solidarity of communists and revolutionary people throughout the world.
Further, the Venezuelan revolution is inseparable from the person of Comrade Chávez in a manner described by GV Plekhanov, the father of Russian Marxism, in his 1898 article, ‘On the role of the individual in history’:
“A great man is great not because his personal qualities give individual features to great historical events, but because he possesses qualities which make him most capable of serving the great social needs of his time, needs which arose as a result of general and particular causes.
“Carlyle, in his well-known book on heroes and hero-worship, calls great men beginners. This is a very apt description. A great man is precisely a beginner because he sees further than others, and desires things more strongly than others. He solves the scientific problems brought up by the preceding process of intellectual development of society; he points to the new social needs created by the preceding development of social relationships; he takes the initiative in satisfying these needs.
“He is a hero. But he is not a hero in the sense that he can stop, or change, the natural course of things, but in the sense that his activities are the conscious and free expression of this inevitable and unconscious course. Herein lies all his significance; herein lies his whole power. But this significance is colossal …”
It is in this spirit that we send our most heartfelt wishes to Comrade Chávez for a full and speedy recovery and wish every success to Venezuela’s socialist revolution.