The Gauntlet Traversed: A Victory Report

Back in October, I wrote an article titled “Half Way Through the Gauntlet: A Status Report.” It dealt with the latest campaign against the Bolivarian movement in Latin America which utilized secessionist groups that participated in the 2006 meeting of the International Confederation for Regional Freedom and Autonomy (CONFILAR). It also analyzed the battles to be fought and the battles won: The August 10th recall referendum in Bolivia, the September 28th constitutional referendum in Ecuador, the November 23rd regional elections in Venezuela, and the constitutional referendum in Bolivia. With the success of the new Bolivian constitution on January 25th, I can happily write the follow-up article; not a status report, but a celebration of the people’s victory against the most recent imperialist scheme.

Ecuador

First, to deal with the nation that had first vanquished the secessionists, Ecuador . Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland Alliance), the ruling party of President Rafael Correa, had lead a movement against neo-liberalism and for a new, progressive constitution. After his initial election and two subsequent electoral victories, the stage was set for the final referendum in late September 2008 to approve or reject the product of several years of struggle. It would open up new avenues for reversing the ravages of neo-liberalism and further popular participation in the administration of state power; a critical step for the most cautious nation in the Bolivarian camp.

In opposition, including the ever present puritanical voice of the Catholic Church, were the secessionists in the important province of Guayas, led by the mayor of Guayaquil (host city of the 2006 CONFILAR gathering), Jaime Nebot. Thanks to a vibrant array of social movements, the right-wing opposition was defeated overwhelmingly, with 64% of the voters favoring the new constitution nationally and 51% in Guayas.

Since this victory, the secessionists have been largely silent. With less initial support than their Venezuelan and Bolivian counterparts, it seems that the elites have apparently decided to pursue different tactics to derail the changes sweeping Ecuador, which may very well include co-opting Correa’s “Citizen’s Revolution.” New contradictions have risen during the rule of the transitional regime that holds caretaker power until the April elections, which has brought the government into conflict with one of the most important social movements in the nation, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The dispute centers over the rights to mine Ecuador’s vast natural resources. The government has signed a deal with a multinational corporation based in Canada which APAIS argues that it will help the economy and increase government control, but others are uneasy about the multinational’s presence, with CONAIE in large part against any mining at all. Several large, militant demonstrations and blockades were held, which were met by police repression.1 This friction, in addition to disputes over the minimum wage, is making it very apparent that Correa will soon be made to choose between yielding to the national bourgeois elements of the revolution or utilize the new constitution to advance in an explicitly socialist direction.

Venezuela

In Venezuela , the revolution led by Hugo Chavez is leading the charge towards the Bolivarian Socialist ideal: a united Latin America whose future is not contingent on Washington, Wall Street, or their lackeys, but the will of the people, with whom power exclusively resides. As the trajectory of Chavez and PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela) grew ever more radical in the face of the international crisis facing capitalism, contradictions reached new heights in the run-up to the November 2008 regional elections, especially in the state of Zulia, rich in oil and under the control of CONFILAR-affiliated governor Manual Rosales (recently replaced by his hand-picked successor Pablo Perez Alvarez)

Violence perpetrated on behalf of the capitalist class was the defining facet of the opposition’s strategy to build momentum after the Bolivarian forces were defeated in late 2007. Groups of quasi-political, petty-bourgeois thugs like the M13 (March 13th Movement) incited violence as they had been doing so for quite some time, but the anti-democratic forces went much further. Involving owners of some of the biggest news outlets in Venezuela and several rightist officers, a coup was planned and was apparently very close to being executed when it was uncovered on September 11th of last year. Having closed this especially viscous avenue, the election proceeded relatively normally (as normal as an election could considering the sheer quantity of US meddling), and on November 23rd, there were no major disturbances. The interpretation of the results varies widely.

First, let’s get the facts straight.2 The last time Venezuela had municipal elections pro-Chavez forces won 21 of 23 governorships. However, as the socialist orientation of the Bolivarian revolution became more apparent, several parties showed their true, counter-revolutionary colors and joined the opposition. When the elections were held, PSUV and its allies controlled 16 of the governorships; after the election, they controlled 17. Roughly 60% of votes went for pro-Chavez candidates, which is the level of support the Bolivarians have consistently received throughout the course of the revolution. 4 of 5 mayoral elections went in favor of the PSUV-led Patriotic Alliance.

There are some unnerving aspects of the results. The five elections that PSUV lost were in some of the most heavily populated states, and therefore only 57% of Venezuelans have socialist governors. This is especially troubling as it suggests that the urban proletariat’s support for the revolution is dwindling, for the most part due to the government’s inability to deal with high crime rates. As for Zulia, PSUV was defeated and Rosales and his allies retained power. However, with the defeat of secessionism in Bolivia and Ecuador, there has been almost no secessionist rhetoric, perhaps due to the overall socialist victory in the elections.

The Bolivarian forces experienced a critical success in the municipal elections. On the other hand, it showed the worrying possibility of stagnation in revolutionary fervor; the only remedy for which is a deepening of people’s power. Essential to this ongoing struggle is the leadership of Hugo Chavez, whose absence would create a possibly fatal power vacuum that could be filled by the “Endogenous Right” (the small but dangerous national bourgeois tendency within PSUV).

The victory of November 23rd can only be solidified with a victory on February 15th, the date of the referendum to abolish term limits.

Bolivia

In Bolivia , the greatest battle between the Bolivarians (Evo Morales’ Movement for Socialism, MAS) and the secessionists took place. The magnitude of this confrontation was greatly exacerbated by the complex ethnic makeup of the nation, with the largely white Media Luna (Crescent Moon) region, filled with natural resources, in antagonism with the densely populated indigenous Andean areas. The first bold political moves by the mostly white oligarchy took place on May 4th, when a referendum on autonomy was held in Santa Cruz province, tainted with violence carried out by the Santa Cruz Youth Union,3 a group of fascist-inspired thugs. Seeking to strike back and assert the popularity of the leftist central government, a referendum was called on August 10th which would confirm or recall the head of state and the prefects of all nine departments in Bolivia. This turned out to be a stunning success for MAS, with two-thirds of voters preferring to retain Morales as President and recalling two secessionist prefects. This set the stage for the civil coup.

Defeated overwhelmingly in an internationally-observed, democratic referendum, the secessionist capitalists tried to violently overrule the people. Shutting down daily life, attacking important infrastructure, and massacring those in their way, a “Civil Coup,” as it came to be known, occurred in early September of last year. The people, well organized by the nation’s robust social movements, were quick to strike back. Backed up by UNASUR and eventually the Bolivian Army, massive protests threatened to lay siege to the Media Luna. Giving up some ground in negotiations (mostly having to do with term limits), the crisis ended and the referendum was scheduled for January 25th.

The campaign for the referendum was not especially dramatic widely expected to go in MAS’ favor. Most polls showed support at around 65% percent, and the only real opposition came from the private media, which launched a disinformation campaign in the tradition of their notoriously deceptive Venezuelan counterparts.4 In the end, over 61% voted in favor of the constitution.5

While this was a great victory for the oppressed people of Bolivia , the results,6 when looked at through a regional and demographical lens, also revealed some troubling blind spots. The Media Luna largely rejected the constitution. For example, in Santa Cruz , whose governor is the de facto leader of the secessionists, “No” won 65-35. It also became clear that MAS has been so far unable to overcome the contradiction between town and country and unite workers in both the countryside and the cities. In rural areas, the constitution was approved by over 80% of the population. This is important as it will provide a serious hindrance to secession, with the rural provinces eating away at the otherwise large portion of Bolivia within the Media Luna. However, only 52% of the urban population voted “Yes”, highlighting the need for MAS to truly become a multi-ethnic vanguard and reach out to the industrial proletariat that may not be of indigenous heritage. If it does not, then the mantle of secessionism could be taken up once again by the oligarchy.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre

The CONFILAR secessionists have, for the most part, been neutralized. This is by no means the end of the revolutionary road Latin America (and especially these three nations) has been traveling on; rather, this victory has simply opened up new avenues. All three nations must take this opportunity to radicalize: Venezuela needs to break with capitalism on a fundamental level, Morales’ must proudly proclaim his socialist beliefs, and Correa must break out of the constrictive mold of social democracy. The bold rebellions against neo-liberalism have yet again been successfully defended, and the people must ceaselessly fight for the complete annihilation of capitalism and its resulting social ills, the only way to guarantee sovereignty and democracy.

  1. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1659/1/ []
  2. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3990 []
  3. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1270/31/ []
  4. Tinyurl []
  5. www.cne.org.bo/ResultadosRNC2009/ []
  6. Tinyurl []

Walter Smolarek is a student and supportive of the progressive presidential campaign of Gloria LaRiva and Eugene Puryear. He encourages you to learn more about it at www.votepsl.org. Read other articles by Walter, or visit Walter's website.

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  1. Ron Horn said on January 29th, 2009 at 12:01pm #

    I couldn’t agree with the author more regarding his conclusion. It seems to me, given the current disarray of world capitalism, that conditions are favorable for further movement to bring about worker control of their respective economies.