Half Way Through the Gauntlet: A Status Report

The not-so subtly imperialist administration of George Bush, in a last ditch attempt to stem the tide of revolution in Latin America before his term ends in January, has launched a divide and rule campaign against the Bolivarian governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. At the heart of the rightist plan is the International Confederation for Regional Freedom and Autonomy (CONFILAR), which was convened in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 2006. In attendance were counter-revolutionaries from all three nations, and deciding the outcome of the battle against their divisive schemes are four elections: The August 10th recall referendum in Bolivia, the September 28th constitutional referendum in Ecuador, the November 23rd regional elections in Venezuela, and the December 7th constitutional referendum in Bolivia (although that date is now in question). The former two have already been decided (Ecuador just about a week ago); what rides on the later two? The myriad of violence, plotting, mass mobilizations, and intervention manifesting in these nations must be understood in the context of these decisive votes to come to the realization that the struggle in South America is reaching its apex.


In Bolivia, the secessionists are well organized and more powerful than their Venezuelan and Ecuadorian counterparts. Emboldened by CONFILAR and after sufficient agitation, the largely white ruling class of this Andean nation had an epiphany: that autonomy was the only way to escape Morales’ redistribution of wealth. The first aggressive action taken by the oligarchy was on May 4th with the illegal autonomy referendum held in Santa Cruz Department. Morales called for abstention in this quasi-consultation plagued with violence perpetrated by the Santa Cruz Youth Union, and, if abstentions are counted as no votes, the voting was split almost exactly down the middle.

This set the stage for the August 10th recall referendum for the President, Vice President, and all of the departmental prefects, called with support from both the governing MAS (Movement for Socialism) and the opposition. While some counter-revolutionaries thought that this would strengthen their position, the referendum did just the opposite. The people showed tremendous support for Morales, who garnered over 67% of the vote. In addition to this socialist victory, the secessionist prefects of the Cochabamba and La Paz departments were overwhelmingly voted out of office. After this great outpouring of popular support, the long-awaited constitutional referendum was called for December 7th, as well as the elections for those who would replace the recalled prefects. Having been trounced in the arena of democracy and faced with the threats of a very progressive constitution and that, in all likelihood, the secessionist prefects will find themselves in the minority, the oligarchy turned to violence.

The fighting began when “strikes” enforced by the Santa Cruz Youth Union were called in the Media Luna (as the departments ruled by the secessionists are called); which coincided with the seizure or vandalizing of government institutions and later, on September 10th, an attack on an important pipeline; truly a “civil coup.” This attack finally prompted Morales to deploy the military to defend vital infrastructure, and the violence reached its peak on September 11th when 16 pro-Morales peasants were massacred by groups connected to prefect Leopoldo Fernandez, who was later arrested. Faced with insurmountable odds, the oligarchs agreed to negotiate and the situation de-escalated after September 12th when negotiations began. These will almost certainly turn out favorably for the popular MAS government, as the powerful social movements of Bolivia had provided muscle were Morales was forced to be soft and will continue their blockade of the rebellious provinces until the referendum on the new constitution is secure. This referendum will (seeing the broad support for Morales during the crisis and in the recall referendum) almost certainly pass and consolidate and invigorate the socialist transformation taking place.


In Ecuador, the leftist government of Rafael Correa is the product of years of struggle. From the revolution that overthrew Lucio Gutierrez, who betrayed the people with his capitulation to neo-liberalism, to the Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland Alliance, Correa’s party) campaign to defeat the notorious capitalist Alvaro Noboa for the presidency, the Ecuadorian people have shown that exploitation is not acceptable. To that end, Correa’s APAIS administration (although one might stop short of calling the government socialist) has pursued an anti-imperialist line primarily via the drafting of a new constitution.

Within three months of Correa’s taking office, a referendum was held on whether or not to proceed with the restructuring of the apparatus of state power. Overwhelmingly, the people approved by a margin of over 4 to 1. This was, naturally, followed by an election for the constituent assembly that would draft the new constitution. Held less than six months later, APAIS crushed the other parties, garnering nearly 70% of the vote. A few months of hard work later a new framework for a just, independent Ecuador was laid, ensuring social security, healthcare, education, the end of foreign military presence, and regional solidarity. All that was left was to rally the people for a final vote, the September 28th constitutional referendum. And this is when our friends from CONFILAR come in.

Jaime Nebot, the mayor of Guayaquil and therefore host of CONFILAR, became the de facto leader of the opposition to the constitution alongside the Catholic Church, which played a major role in a well coordinated misinformation campaign via a disgusting spectacle of manipulation playing to homophobic and misogynistic tendencies the Church itself instilled in some Ecuadorians. Opposing them were the social movements, toughened by the struggle against the corrupt governments of the past, carrying out an even more efficient mobilization campaign emphasizing the history-making significance of this consultation.

When September 28th finally rolled around, there was, in reality, two elections going on. One in Ecuador as a whole, determining the fate of the progressive constitution, and another in Guayas province, where the level of approval for the constitution would determine whether or not there was any future for the CONFILAR strategy. In both contests, the secessionists were defeated, with 64% support nationally and 51% support in Guayas. To give a final dose of legitimacy to the new order, a general election will be held in a few months, and from there on it’s easy to see Correa radicalizing just as Chavez did after the passing of Venezuela’s progressive, 1999 constitution. Although this may be too bold, at present it seems that the oligarchy will have to de-emphasize its secessionist tactics.


Certainly more developed than the Ecuadorian secessionists, but less so than their Bolivian counterparts, a CONFILAR-originated quasi-movement for autonomy has reared its head in the oil-rich state of Zulia, whose governor, Manuel Rosales, is a long time opponent of Chavez and was complicit in the 2002 coup attempt. In Venezuela, the opposition forces (which includes the media in its near entirety) are arguably the most radical and definitely the most hardened and manipulative. With tremendous popular support, Hugo Chavez and PSUV, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (in one incarnation or another), have won every election they faced with the exception of the most recent, the 2007 constitutional referendum. Through a combination of insufficient agitation by the Bolivarian forces and the vehement anti-Chavez attitude of the media, the constitution was defeated. The oligarchs used this momentum to attempt to construct a two-pronged counter-revolution: electoral organizing (backed by US government slush funds like USAID) and violence (carried out by thugs or reactionary officers).

The electoral organizing (if spending NED grants can be considered organizing) is focused on the November 23rd regional elections. Currently, 21 of the 23 states have Bolivarian governors. However, up to seven of these positions could be lost, and especially critical is control of the governorship Zulia. The construction of socialism could be totally put on hold or even begin to reverse should the oligarchy be able to multiply its momentum. On the other hand, should PSUV be able to hold on to the vast majority of states, the weaknesses of the revolution could be rectified.

Undeniably, Chavez and PSUV have vast popular support, so while the regional elections may strengthen the opposition, it will certainly not be an outright victory. As such, violence is a key tactic of the desperate counter-revolutionaries. At first, this was confined to bands of thugs, most notable of these is the March 13th Movement (M13). For example, a little over two months ago M13 (consistent with their actions before the 2007 referendum) instigated a riot in the city of Merida. However, these paramilitary actions have proved insufficient. No, the oligarchy has no other alternative than to take the route of Pinochet, Banzer, and Stroessner.

On September 11th, the 35th anniversary of Pinochet’s seizure of power from the Allende government, it was announced that a coup was being planned involving officers both presently and formerly serving as well as media tycoons Miguel Henrique Otero and Alberto Federico Ravell, heads of El Nacional newspaper and Globovision channel, respectively. Using an F-16, the plotters would bomb Miraflores (the presidential palace) or shoot down Chavez’s plane with an AT-4 rocket launcher. Luckily, yet another usurpation of state power was averted through excellent intelligence gathering. However, even if a putsch had occurred, the people would have, just like they’ve done before, came out in force to re-establish democracy and sovereignty. It’s essential that the popular support that would drive such an action is maintained, and this means reaffirming the Bolivarian government’s dedication to entirely removing capitalism, possible only with a victory on November 23rd.

From the tremendous show of support for the socialist government in Bolivia, to the successful resistance against a reactionary civil coup, the establishment of a starting point for radical change in Ecuador, and courageous resistance against imperialist and capitalist influence in Venezuela, we may very well be seeing the defining moment in the fight for South American liberation. However, we should be careful not to assume a triumphant attitude in the light of these recent victories. Anti-imperialists of all nations (especially in the United States) should fight on and redouble their efforts to not only achieve national sovereignty by fighting Western (or more accurately, Northern) lackeys in the two elections to come but to consolidate this freedom via Latin American integration along socialist lines.

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 ridenour said on October 18th, 2008 at 4:07pm #


    This is a marvelously well-thought, well-researched, and well-written article. You amaze me with your knowledge and acquired in so few years. Thank you for this.