Jan 6, 2003
Since December 2, the opposition to President Chavez has tried to paralyze Venezuela to drive him from office. The bosses' federation Fedecamaras, the Catholic Church, the big media, the management of the Venezuelan national oil company and the union chiefs of the Venezuelan Confederation of Labor have joined to form the Democratic Coordination. The Coordination has mobilized the petty bourgeoisie of the capital to bang pots and pans and to demonstrate. This situation recalls that of Chile under Allende in 1973. At that time, the Chilean bourgeoisie mobilized the petty bourgeoisie, with the support of U.S. imperialism, against the "left" government, before the army carried out a blood bath against the working class.
The Coordination has declared a so-called "general strike," which has stopped a good part of commerce. Gas no longer arrives at the gas stations, threatening to paralyze the country. But most importantly oil exports are blocked. Venezuela is the eighth biggest oil producer in the world and the fifth biggest exporter. Its oil exports – 70% of which go to the U.S. – bring in half the country's income.
The objective of the opposition is to get rid of Chavez and to exclude him from new elections. The political and economic leaders of the country denounce the dictatorship of the president. In fact, it seems that Chavez, a former colonel, was jailed in 1992 when his coup attempt against the old corrupt government failed. But after two years in jail, he was released and was elected president in 1998. He was re-elected in 2000. If the political and economic leaders are angry at him now, it's because he has taken, or threatens to take away a few of their privileges.
Chavez wasn't part of those corrupt leadership circles who became prosperous from the oil windfall and who, in 1989, killed hundreds of people to crush a popular revolt. This is where his popularity comes from, gaining him the support of the lower classes of the shantytowns of Caracas and an entire part of the army. When last April the oligarchy managed to overthrow and arrest him, he was quickly freed and returned to his post by demonstrations from the shantytowns and the paratroopers. Since then, he has continued to speak directly to the population through weekly television broadcasts. He again took up a demagogic – but ineffective – stance in favor of the poor and the oppressed (almost 80% of Venezuelans live below the poverty level.) He appeared with Fidel Castro and made a visit to SaddamHussein.
These little provocations against the bourgeoisie and the United States haven't gone far. He hasn't taken on the fortunes of the rich. He's content to utilize anti-rich and anti-U.S. feelings in the population in order to reinforce his popularity. But that's enough to make him extremely hated by the oligarchy.
The imperialist leaders, the U.S. and others, appear to consider him unpredictable and so potentially dangerous. But they also know, after seeing what happened last April, that it is dangerous to take him on directly, since he benefits from the support of the majority of the population and the army. The United States tried to intervene through the Organization of American States, recommending a "political solution" and the elections – which the Coordination called for. But faced with Chavez's refusal, the U.S. hasn't insisted. And the fact that the Brazilian government, both the previous administration and the new one, delivered fuel to Venezuela to prevent the paralysis of the country, shows that no one wants a bloody test of force.
Chavez, for his part, remains on the defensive, mobilizing the poor layers of the population to support him, but holding back from making an assault on the rich and the corrupt. Right now the army seems to staying faithful to the Constitution and to Chavez, but for how long?