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News > Venezuela

Hugo Chavez: Now and Forever

  • Commander Hugo Chavez, Venezuela.

    Commander Hugo Chavez, Venezuela. | Photo: Twitter/ @UrbanNathalia

Published 4 March 2021
Opinion

The following analysis explains how Hugo Chavez became a Bolivarian legend. 

CHAVEZ: FOR NOW AND FOREVER | 1995-1998

During the last years of the XX century, the world witnessed the advance of ethnoreligious fundamentalism and the inclement imposition of savage neoliberalism. These phenomena, which began to manifest themselves with great force after the fall of the Socialist Bloc and the emergence of a unipolar world, are expressed in acts of terrorism concentrated in the USA's territory and interests and macroeconomic application adjustment plans in Latin America and Europe.

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Terrorism Made in the USA

In 1995, white supremacist Timothy McVeigh exploded a truck bomb that destroyed a large part of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. This episode, which left 168 people dead and more than 600 injured, became the largest attack of its kind perpetrated on U.S. soil since the first attack on the Twin Towers in New York two years earlier. Extremism does not stop. During the summer of 1996, a Christian fanatic named Eric Rudolph detonated a backpack of explosives in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. The XXVI Olympic Games were being held in that city. That year, a device exploded in a residential complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where U.S. military personnel stayed. Three months later, on September 26, Taliban paramilitary forces seized the city of Kabul and established the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

This escalation reached a peak in 1998 with the simultaneous attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. This operation was organized by members of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, whose founder, Osama bin Laden, had been trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as part of the program to support guerrilla groups opposing Soviet incursions in the Middle East between 1978 and 1989.

Transatlantic Neoliberalism

In the 1990s, the application of the neoliberal doctrine in Latin American and European economies also took off with violence. In 1995, Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori were reelected as presidents of Argentina and Peru, respectively. Both governments, faithful followers of the Washington Consensus's recommendations, continued the State's economic dismantling policies, which had already begun five years earlier. Strategic sectors such as electric power, hydrocarbons, communications, and agricultural production were handed over to transnational consortiums and conglomerates.

The anti-state onslaught also found partners in the Old Continent. At the end of the decade, the European Union reported an increase in revenues from public sector sales. These figures corresponded to the Portuguese government's announcements in 1996 when it presented a national privatization plan starting with Telecom and Cimpor (telecommunications and cement). That same year, José María Aznar, leader of the conservative right-wing Popular Party, won the Spanish presidential elections and headed an administration that, in only two years, negotiated away 43 public enterprises in a process marked by clientelism, undervaluation of assets, and fraudulent awarding of concessions.

Denationalization vs. Constituent

As for Venezuela, during the second government of Rafael Caldera (1994 - 1999), the final adjustments are made for the country's intensive denationalization. In his first message to Congress, on March 10, 1995, the last ruler of "Punto Fijoism" informed the Nation that "The opening of strategic associations in oil matters is already submitted, in accordance with the law, to the Legislative Chambers. " In other words, PDVSA had already been negotiated. On April 15, 1996, Caldera announced to the country the Venezuela Agenda, which repeated the neoliberal formula of the Great Turnaround presented by Carlos Andres Perez in 1989 and which paved the way for an agreement with the IMF.

In 1997, PDVSA's President, Luis Giusti, announced to the country the decision to eliminate Corpoven, Lagoven, and Maraven to "rationalize costs." At the same time, a shareholders' meeting decided to definitively liquidate Venezolana Internacional de Aviación, Sociedad Anónima (VIASA), which had been privatized since 1991. This induced bankruptcy left more than 100 people unemployed.

The situation worsened with the Organic Labor Law (LOT) approval published in the Extraordinary Official Gazette No. 5,152 of June 19, 1997. Its content stipulates the elimination of the retroactive calculation of workers' social benefits. This legal framework, which invalidates labor seniority and opens the way to the suppression of public social security, is the product of an unconsulted agreement reached by a leadership made up of the Central Office of Coordination and Planning of the Presidency of the Republic (Cordiplan), Fedecámaras and the Venezuelan Workers' Central (CTV).

By 1998, U.S., Canadian, and Japanese investors had already participated in the auction of oil fields. They carried out inspections in gas and gold deposits in the east and south of the country. Protests by students, teachers, and doctors became increasingly frequent among many other unions and organizations, reflecting the generalized social discontent and the ineffectiveness of a dying government system.

Between 1995 and 1998, the ruling class programs the Nation's main resources' surrender, social exclusion rises to alarming levels, and the "partyocracy" continuously fragments after four decades in power. During this period, Commander Hugo Chávez strengthens the national structure of the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200 (MBR- 200), formulates an anti-liberal program synthesized in the Agenda Alternativa Bolivariana, and creates the Movimiento V República, as the political party that electorally drives the Bolivarian Revolution and manages to channel "...that avalanche that was unleashed by Venezuela, and which was nothing else but the awakening of the constituent power of the people."

For now... none. Constituent Assembly now!

Commander Chávez is released from Yare prison and immediately assumes the crucial mission of cohesion of the MBR-200 throughout the national territory and re-launching its political activity. His objectives were to foster the will for change in the majorities and to give optimism to a people that "...was once again claiming its right to dream and, even more, its obligation to fight for the dream. Thus, at that moment, the idea of political utopia returned to the national mind. In other words: the desire for a new country with more justice and less corruption began to exist in the collective imagination".

Under the slogan Hope is in the streets, Chávez travels through villages, towns, and cities, speaking in squares throughout the country, giving speeches in public events, and making statements in press conferences and radio programs. Between March and June 1994, he undertakes the Hundred Days Tour, the first of the tours through the people's living spaces. Later, invited by social organizations, political personalities, and academic institutions, he visits Colombia, Panama, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Cuba between July and December of that year. In the land of José Martí, he meets Commander Fidel Castro for the first time. He establishes with him a relationship of friendship and revolutionary commitment, which would define the historical time to come.

At that time, Fidel leads a solitary struggle against neoliberal aggression. The Cuban people represent a worthy bastion of socialism in Our America and the world, at a time marked by the intensification of the economic blockade imposed by the U.S. in 1962. In his closing speech at the homage ceremony given to the leader of MBR-200, which was organized in the auditorium of the University of Havana, on December 14, 1994, Comandante Fidel defines, with these words, the political potential he sees in Comandante Chávez: "What is certain is that a great popular commotion is occurring in Venezuela, and the prestige and support for that group of officers and soldiers led by Hugo Chávez grew like foam."

Soon Chávez's face and message begin to be recognized, inside and outside Venezuela. In 1995, a political and media offensive was unleashed against him, which would never cease. His visits, contacts, and postures assumed during his trip through Latin America, turn him into an object of attacks that point him out, on the one hand, as a member of international communism and, on the other hand, as the leader of a Grandcolombian guerrilla movement.

In this context, on February 25, a contingent of the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) attacked a Marine Infantry river post located in Cararabo, a border town in Apure state, killing eight Venezuelan soldiers and wounding five others. Colombian authorities and press were quick to link Chavez to the events. Even the President of Colombia, Ernesto Samper, participates in this ambush and publicly affirms that the Commander is linked to the ELN's actions and held meetings with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Soon after, Chávez returns to Bogotá, faces the situation before the Colombian media, places himself at the order of the authorities of the Court Martial and the Ministry of Defense to be investigated, and informs public opinion that there is no reliable evidence to support such accusations.

During this year, Chávez positions himself as a future political leader. The MBR-200 begins to receive offers from leftist parties seeking to establish alliances and define joint candidacies before the 1995 regional elections. However, the Commander says that the "... Venezuelan people have awakened, it is no longer easy to deceive them; and forces are being organized that will to make another country possible...". Decided not to participate in the elections, which he considers "illegal and illegitimate." Although, Commander Francisco Arias Cardenas, one of the leading figures of the MBR-200, finally accepts the support of La Causa R (LCR) for the governorship of the State of Zulia, in its majority, the revolutionary Bolivarian forces remain united and call for "active abstention," under a slogan that will resonate and mark the path in the following years: "For now...for none. Constituent Assembly now!"

A proposal to get out of the labyrinth

Since January 1996, the harassment and imprisonment of MBR-200 militants had increased. The Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services (Disip) was the Caldera government's force to sustain fierce persecution against university professors, professionals, students, cultural leaders, and popular leaders who sympathized with the Bolivarian cause.

In the following months, the National Congress discussed the Oil Opening contract. Alí Rodríguez Araque, deputy for LCR, denounced the unconstitutional nature of the negotiation, which compromised the royalties received by the State for production and raised the scenario of Venezuela's exit from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); an entity that is seen as a stumbling block for the interests of the transnationals that would come to control PDVSA.

Despite the police siege, Comandante Chávez does not stop. He begins to write "La columna patriota" in the newspaper La Razón, where he outlines his political reflections, economic analysis, and opinions on national and international events. Also, he keeps moving and travels around the country, presenting in forums, workshops, seminars and discussions, the Bolivarian Alternative Agenda (AAB), which "...breaks with the neoliberal foundation, rebels against it; demolishes the narrow and black walls of the unilateral, fragmentary and reductionist vision, to look around and perceive reality in all its magnitude, through a humanistic, integral, holistic and ecological approach".

This action program identifies two national problem areas: poverty and denationalization. 1) "To raise in the short term the level and quality of life of the Venezuelan population above the basic threshold, constituted by the set of their physical needs (food, health, housing), social needs (security, integration, equality, freedom), cultural needs (education, sports, recreation, creativity), political needs (participation, protagonism)" "To contribute to the vindication of our national independence and the reaffirmation of our sovereignty."

Comandante Chávez takes his proposal to the VI Forum of São Paulo, which gathered the leading organizations of the Latin American left, in the city of San Salvador, between September 26 and 29, 1996. From his participation in this encounter, which positions him in the international left's political scenario, the tendentious press links Chávez with an alleged purchase of arms in Central America and the organization of another military rebellion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the MBR-200 emerges as a force to take power by armed means, fourteen years after its creation, it has become a political organization, which brings together the ideas and expectations of a whole collective. The plans are no longer aimed at a violent resolution of a situation of injustice but rather at the common construction of the possible Homeland, based on popular participation. This is what Chávez affirms, four years after February 4, 1992, when he confirms that "...we have a proposal to get out of the labyrinth, that is what we have called it, a Bolivarian Alternative Agenda that must begin with a call for a referendum. Today we must ask Venezuelans if they want Caldera to continue governing or not, a referendum, and if they want a Constituent Assembly or not, that is the peaceful solution that can prevent us from what you were saying, a situation of uncertainty, a social explosion again, that is our proposal".

The construction of a new Republic, the "V Republic."

During 1997, Caldera's ministerial cabinet, in agreement with the political leadership of the Venezuelan Workers' Central and the national economic interests grouped in Fedecámaras, fulfilled a good part of the financial commitments acquired with the IMF and the World Bank. The deepening of the Venezuela Agenda is still in progress. It is concretely expressed in acute labor insecurity, the government's refusal to consider a fair salary remuneration, and the imposition of strong increases in public services' tariffs.

In this pre-electoral year, the political parties seek to rearrange themselves through pacts that become empty and ephemeral. In the National Congress, A.D. and Convergencia joined forces to counteract the so-called Triple Alliance, formed by Copei, LCR, and the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), and internal tensions and quarrels also surfaced, resulting in a wave of division. From AD, Apertura arose, led by Carlos Andrés Pérez and Renovación, headed by Claudio Fermín. On the other hand, LCR split, giving rise to Patria Para Todos (PPT), led by Pablo Medina and Aristóbulo Istúriz.

As to the popular movement led by Chávez, it is worth mentioning that "When we arrived in 1997, there was not a state in Venezuela where there was no MBR-200 command". Given this panorama, a change of strategy is approaching. Although Bolivarian cadres remained active in the Armed Forces, vigilance had become more extreme, and many were performing duties in isolated border posts. After exchanging impressions, evaluating logistical availability, and weighing operational capacities, the Commander concludes "...that it was not possible, in the short term, to launch, with any possibility of success, a new military operation of the 4-F type, or civic-military as that of November 27. " In addition to this, the MBR-200 contracts an opinion survey, made from more than 100,000 consultations throughout Venezuela, whose results indicate that Chávez's presidential candidacy has an approximate acceptance of 55%.

Considering these factors, the Comandante decides to give the MBR-200 an electoral character without abandoning the objective of revolutionizing the hegemonic structures of power through the Constituent Power. This proposal encounters strong opposition among militants and leaders who follow Chávez; however, after intense days of debate and reflection, on April 19, 1997, in a National Assembly summoned in Valencia, the V Republic Movement (MVR) is born, which chooses Chávez as a candidate for the 1998 presidential elections.

Thus begins the "massive tactical offensive " of the Bolivarian Revolution. The MVR is erected to transfer decision-making to the people and channel the creation of a participative and protagonist democracy. With the registration of the new political party, which is formalized before the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) on July 30 of that year, "A leadership of the new century begins to take shape and will bring with it the realization of dreams and hopes..." From then on, Chávez sets in motion the set of strategies that will give the floor to the deep transformation of Venezuelan society, through the "...construction of a new Republic, the "V Republic," that is to say, a new political system (...) through the 1999 Constituent Assembly, after taking power by means of the vote in 1998."

Venezuela, we might as well say, has entered the 21st century.

In 1998 the last elections of the IV Republic took place. The two-party adeco-copeyano system, which had dominated for more than three decades, was shaken for the first time with Caldera's victory in 1993. On that occasion, the founder of Copei separates from his party and creates Convergencia, an inorganic organization based on Christian democracy, which functions as his electoral platform to forge a popularly known coalition as the chiripero.

Stripped of the Presidency, A.D. and Copei took refuge in the Parliament and managed to participate in the negotiations of the Oil Opening in 1996 and approve the disastrous labor legislation of 1997. In 1998, the modification of the Organic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation, which stipulates the division of that year's elections, is endorsed. The regional and parliamentary elections would take place in November. The presidential elections would be held in December. With this maneuver, the two-party adeco-copeyano, the MAS and LCR, seek to assure spaces in governorships, mayorships, and seats because they have not yet defined who their candidates for the first mandate of the Republic will be.
 
As the campaign begins, three independent options emerge 1)
Irene Sáez, who served as Mayor of the municipality of Chacao since 1992 and represented the organization Integración, Renovación, Nueva Esperanza (Irene); 2) Henrique Salas Römer, former Governor of Carabobo from 1990 - 1996 and founder of Proyecto Venezuela and 3) Commander Hugo Chávez, leader of the MVR. As the months go by, Copei and LCR gave their support to Irene. Meanwhile, A.D. launches Luis Alfaro Ucero, Governor of Monagas between 1965 - 1968, Congress member on several occasions, and General Secretary of his party.

On his part, Chávez succeeds in organizing "...a vast popular movement;
With this support, the MVR agglutinates the left in the Polo Patriotico and, on November 8, becomes the second political force in Congress, with 35 deputies and 8 senators. It also managed to win the governorship of Barinas and contributed to the victory in Anzoátegui, Aragua, Guárico, Lara, Vargas, and Zulia.

When December arrives, the Commander is positioned as the first option in most of the polls. His inevitable take-off causes havoc in the partycracy, which seeks to rearrange its cards. The Copeyanos and Adecos, abandon Irene and Alfaro Ucero, respectively, to join forces with Salas Römer. This last-minute move, which is due to desperation and not to political calculation, intends to stop the overwhelming advance of the MVR. In this regard, two days before the presidential election, Chávez affirms the following: "I believe that the rotten leaderships of A.D. and Copei are doing a last service to Venezuela, they have torn off Mr. Salas' mask, if he had one, for some Venezuelan sectors. They have thrown it to the floor".

Finally, on December 6, the popular victory is consummated. Commander Hugo Chávez is elected as the new President of the Republic of Venezuela, with 3,673,685 votes, representing 56.20% of the national electorate. The end of the IV Republic arrives without a single act of violence, and the floodgates of the Concrete Utopia outlined by the Commander in the Blue Book are opened. The Constituent Assembly and the Simón Bolívar National Project find the ground cleared for the Homeland sowing, which has waited so many years to be reborn. Undoubtedly, another time is beginning for the people, and the path of History is widening, along which the majorities will now walk.

Thus announces Commander Chávez in the speech he delivers in front of the Teresa Carreño Theater in Caracas, a few moments after knowing the decision of the Venezuelan people: "Let us all unite, and we will be invincible. I call you. Let us now open the road to the new Venezuela. I repeat, compatriots, here from the depths of my soul, my gratitude. I am full of love. And from now on, count on me forever, with greater vigor, with greater dedication, you have begun to write the pages of the new century. Venezuela, we could well say it, has entered the 21st century.

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