By Ricardo Vaz, published on Investig’Action, Aug 1, 2017 [And see further below three additional reports related to the political situation in Venezuela. — A Socialist In Canada]
After weeks of imperialist threats and opposition violence, the elections for the Constituent Assembly (ANC) in Venezuela took place on July 30th. The result was a massive turnout of over 8 million voters, around 41% of the electorate, which gave chavismo a much-needed shot in the arm. Western media reacted by trying to dispute the number and sticking even closer to the narrative being pushed by the opposition and the U.S. State Department. With the opposition scrambling and U.S. authorities bringing more sanctions and threats, it is now chavismo that has the political initiative. The Constituent Assembly will not solve everything by itself, but it is a tremendous opportunity to push the Bolivarian Revolution forward.
A tale of two elections
On July 16, the Venezuelan opposition held a “consultation” [referendum] in which it called on its supporters to symbolically reject the Constituent Assembly, appeal for a military coup and support a so-called “national unity” government. Here is how Associated Press reported on the turnout:
The opposition said 7.6 million Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s symbolic referendum, which the government labelled an internal party poll with no relevance for the country.
There is no mention of the fact that people were free to vote more than once, that no electoral roll was used and that no audit was possible because everything was burned at the end of the day. Apart from this, in a recent article we explored other reasons why this total was very doubtful, based on simple estimations given the number of voting booths available. A phone conversation between opposition leaders in Aragua state also revealed how the numbers were being cooked.
In contrast, the July 30 elections had the full weight of the electoral authorities behind them, over 12.000 voting centres and 24.000 voting booths and the approval of international monitors. The main obstacle was the opposition’s violence, and so additional voting centres, such as the Caracas Poliedro pavilion, were set up for people who were not able to vote in their own neighbourhoods (1). Pictures showed voting queues forming since early morning and the voting deadline was extended so everyone could vote.
It is also worth reminding how the Venezuelan voting system is as close to foolproof as it gets. Voters access voting machines using their fingerprints, exercise their vote electronically, and then a paper ballot is printed. The voter checks that it matches the vote he/she just made and places this paper ballot in a box. Once the voting is done, a random audit of voting centres is made to ensure that the paper ballot tally matches the electronic tally to a margin of 0.1%. In particular, a big discrepancy between the voting totals, paper and electronic, would stand out immediately. And yet, this is how Associated Press reported Sunday’s turnout:
National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million.
Based on what, exactly? If they have evidence they should present it. Some pictures of empty voting centres in middle-class neighbourhoods, which for all we know could have been taken the day before, do not prove anything. Surely, among the thousands of electoral commission workers, one of them would report that there were 3 times more electronic votes than paper ballots in his centre. When Donald Trump claimed that he lost the popular vote because 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton the media checked and disproved the wild claim. But apparently these standards, or any standards for that matter, do not apply to the Venezuelan opposition.
What’s in a number?
The ineffable Guardian (2), which went into propaganda overdrive in recent days, simply let the U.S. State Department set the tone to describe Sunday’s events in Venezuela. Perhaps still in denial, the Guardian had yet to report the total number of votes on Monday morning. A second piece that revealed the 8 million votes surrounded by all the supposed controversy also shed some light on the disputed predictions and the “well respected independent analysis”:
An exit poll based on surveys from 110 voting centers [note: out of a total of 12.000] by New York investment bank Torino Capital and a Venezuela public opinion company estimated that 3.6 million people voted… (3)
It would be interesting to know the sample size, the margin of error, which voting centres were used and which baseline is being compared against. Exit polls work by comparing against exit polls from a previous election, or a model based on previous elections. Voters are interviewed during a certain period of time, and numbers are compared to similar ones in a previous election during the same time to predict turnout (and also how the vote might swing, which is not relevant in this case). Since exit polling has been forbidden in the past in Venezuela, it really makes us wonder how these predictions are made.
We also need to point out that in this case not all voting centres are created equal. Given that the opposition flat-out refused to participate, turnout will have been much more suppressed in the opposition strongholds, and even more so in the vicinity of violent opposition barricades. An oversampling of these would inevitably skewer the prediction, which is why the data needs to be scrutinised and compared to the official results if it is to be taken seriously. The opposition’s long track record of crying fraud and presenting fabricated evidence (or none at all) also makes these claims very hard to believe.
In any case, we expect the media to uncritically parrot the opposition “prediction” with the same bias that they uncritically parrot the 7.6 million total for the opposition’s consultation. (4)
‘The world is ending tomorrow. If not, then next week’
After winning the legislative elections in December 2015, the Venezuelan opposition announced that it would get rid of the government in six months. Following protests in September 2016, again we were told that the end was near.
The same doomsday announcements were found in the recent wave of protests and violence. In response to the call for a Constituent Assembly, opposition leaders boldly announced that it would not take place! And finally, the opposition announced that their July 16th marked the “zero hour” of a new phase, in which they would nominate a “national unity” government. This was later downgraded to an “governability accord” which some factions refused to sign. Their demand that the Constituent Assembly elections be cancelled was also a failure.
Last week’s events capture this phenomenon in a nutshell. After a two-day “civic strike”, which amounted to little more than closed shops in wealthy areas and bosses locking out their workers, they announced the “takeover of Caracas” for Friday. This then became a “takeover of Venezuela”, and finally another trancazo, in which opposition groups simply lock down their own areas. Then they wanted to march to voting centres on Saturday and physically impede the elections from taking place, but this too was to become another ‘trancazo’…
There is very little credibility left to this opposition that behaves like a doomsday cult, predicting the end of the world on a given day and later re-scheduling. For their own sake, one hopes that they have a “no refund” policy, otherwise funders like the National Endowment for Democracy or U.S.AID might want their money back.
Lessons in democracy and international recognition
The pressure and propaganda against Venezuela in recent weeks were centred on the idea that the simple fact of these elections taking place would mean the “end of democracy” and the definitive arrival of a “dictatorship”. Often absent from these pieces is the fact that everyone could vote and anyone could stand as a candidate.
But beyond this we encounter the obvious question of why Venezuela should get lessons in democracy or electoral procedures from the likes of the United States. Intellectual Gore Vidal once famously said, “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.”
The fact that Brazil (!) complained about the legitimacy of this process shows that an unexpected victim of last year’s parliamentary coup, which brought Temer to power, was irony.
When it became clear that the Venezuelan government was not going to back down and the vote was going ahead, the tone changed slightly. The U.S., the European Union and the usual suspects (Argentina, Mexico, Colombia,…) now announced they would not recognise the election results. Here it is worth recalling a few episodes of international recognition:
* the U.S. initially refused to recognise the results of the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election, even after it was proven beyond any doubt that Maduro was the winner.
* the U.S. and Spain rushed to recognise Pedro Carmona’s government after the 2002 coup, even though the coup authorities dissolved all public powers
* European countries and later the U.S. recognised an unelected body, chosen by delegates appointed by the various sponsors of the Syrian war, and operating in Turkey, as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people”. This body would later be consigned to irrelevance.
To these we could add a multitude of leaders who came to power following bloody or back-door coups, from Pinochet to Temer, and never had any trouble being “recognised”. The Israeli apartheid regime has no issues in terms of recognition despite its permanent history of crimes and ethnic cleansing. So there is hardly any correlation between legitimacy and recognition from the U.S. and its followers.
What happens next?
The total of 8 million votes is higher than Maduro’s 2013 total and 2.5 million more than what chavismo got in the 2015 legislative elections. This is being presented as “evidence” against the official results. This stems from a very narrow-minded perspective that does not understand that chavismo is much bigger than Maduro, just like it was much bigger than Chávez himself. The Venezuelan opposition and the mainstream media also seem incapable of considering that people would actually vote in defiance of the violent actions of the opposition and the imperialist threats from the U.S. Instead we hear the same recycled allegations that public workers or people living in houses built by the government were forced to vote. (5)
The poor showing in 2015 was blamed by the grassroots on the top-down nature of the chavista electoral machine, which simply chose the candidates. For these elections the more radical sectors were able to put forward their own candidates, and as a result many people who would not necessarily vote for Maduro or for PSUV legislative candidates went out to vote for the specific proposals put forward by friends, co-workers and comrades.
In retrospect, Maduro’s gamble can only be seen as a huge success for chavismo and a huge failure for the opposition. With the opposition ramping up (violent) pressure on the streets and claiming they were an overwhelming majority, Maduro essentially “called their bluff” (phrase borrowed from Mike Prysner). By calling for a Constituent Assembly, Maduro hoped, and managed, to galvanise chavismo with a participatory process that could reach the bases, and at the same time expose the opposition by forcing them bring forward their ideas. Polls reveal that Venezuelans are aware that the opposition has no plan whatsoever, and the opposition duly backed itself into a corner by refusing to participate, reducing their political arguments to these lobotomised slogans “we do not want to be Cuba”.
While the turnout represents a victory for chavismo, the battle is far from over. The Constituent Assembly is not a magical cure for all problems, and whatever comes out of it will depend heavily on the balance of forces among its members. Now more than ever it is urgent to make clear push to the left, with more power to the communes, increased worker control over the economy, expropriations against the instigators of the economic war, etc. With the opposition hell-bent on their violent regime change plans and a permanent imperial onslaught, only radicalisation will ensure the survival of the Bolivarian Revolution.
(1) It is quite remarkable that, according to the media, the EU, the U.S., etc, the “pro-democracy” faction is the one that was physically trying to stop others from voting and destroying electoral material.
(2) In the run-up to the elections, the Guardian also published an “explainer” which essentially a propaganda piece. We tried to expose some of the lies and distortions in this article.
(3) The Venezuelan company involved in the exit poll was Innovarium, which has no track record of having done electoral polls, or exit polls in particular. Innovarium appears to be headed by Carlos Guzmán Cárdenas. A quick look at his social media accounts reveals a very strong anti-government bias. As a reference, Maria Corina Machado’s U.S.-funded Súmate ran a phony exit poll for the 2004 recall referendum predicting an 18-point defeat for Chávez. Chávez ended up winning by a landslide. Former U.S.-president Jimmy Carter slammed Súmate for having, “…deliberately distributed this erroneous exit poll data in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line” We have contacted both Torino Capital and Carlos Guzmán Cárdenas asking for more information about this exit poll and will update the article if this information is provided.
(4) The media has also latched on to the revocation of the house arrest deals of opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. What the media failed to mention is the repeated violations of the terms of their house arrest, with constant calls for anti-government actions and for a military coup.
(5) It is not too hard to understand that people living in houses built by Misión Vivienda would take part in a process that, among other things, aims to solidify social gains and missions. Especially when the opposition has already made it clear that their intentions are to privatise the housing mission.
Also by Ricardo Vaz in Investig’Action:
The Guardian’s propaganda on Venezuela: all you need to know, July 25, 2017
Chile yesterday, Venezuela today
By Eduardo Contreras, published on Gran Valparaiso, July 6, 2017 (rough translation to English from Spanish original by A Socialist in Canada)
It is understandable that Chileans who were not yet born in 1973 or who were very young do not understand the situation that was lived by the country at that time or that is being lived in 2017 in Venezuela. The similarities are more than obvious because the actors in both cases, in political viewpoint and class interests, are the same. Their conduct, therefore, is similar.
Those who lived that time in Chile and who are opposed to the legitimate government of Venezuela and do not reject the obvious coup maneuvers there are ultra-reactionary partisans of a coup or they are hopelessly of poor spirit and brain. That’s because the strategy and tactics of the CIA and other devices of the U.S. government are the same in yesterday’s Chile and today’s Venezuela. Consequently, the behavior of the local big businessmen, right-wing politicians and media in the service of Washington are also identical.
Just as the Chilean coup plotters murdered foreigners in 1973, Venezuelan coup plotters are murdering foreigners. This includes Chileans such as Guisella Rubilar Figueroa, killed in 2014 in the city of Mérida while participating in an activity against the coup plotters, and José Rodrigo Muñoz Alcoholado, also known for his position of support to the government of [Venezuela President Nicholas] Maduro and who was killed while dining quietly in the Rugantino restaurant in Caracas.
Like the Chilean right in its time, today the Venezuelan right and its props of transnational power deploy widely varied strategies. During the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende, a plan of economic sabotage has provoked very high inflation and serious shortages of goods in Venezuela. Both of these induced processes, added to the collapse of world oil prices, have hit the Venezuelan people with force.
The coup makers are clear that they must control those centers of government power which they can win, as was the case with the coup in Chile [on September 11, 1973]. In our country, the Supreme Court issued a statement [August 1973] in an unlawful and illegal way that declared the constitutional government of President Allende illegitimate. Additionally, a reactionary majority in the Chamber of Deputies approved a declaration in August 1973 declaring illegal the government. In Venezuela, that is the role being played by the legislative power, the Parliament. [See Wikipedia for description of the political crisis in Chile in August 1973.]
As in Chile in 1973, the current effort in Venezuela to destabilize Maduro’s democratic government lacks real and effective support of the masses. Despite the economic difficulties created by the [Western economic] boycott, the masses continue to support the Bolivarian government.
It is worth recalling that in Chile, on September 4, 1973, about one million people marched for hours and hours in front of the Presidential Palace of La Moneda in support of the popular government of Allende. A few days later, the Air Force bombed and destroyed La Moneda [presidential palace].
The evident similarity between what happened in our country and what is happening today in Venezuela is expressed on the most diverse planes. Let us remember, of course, that the economies of both nations were based in the extraction and commercialization of natural resources–basically mining–making them dependent on the international price of these products. Imperialism’s handling of the world economy precipitated the fall of the price of Chilean copper during Allende’s time and this has happened to Venezuelan oil during Maduro’s rule, with known consequences.
Another similarity is that the political projects of Allende and Chavez yesterday and Maduro today have been openly directed towards a radical and peaceful change of socio-economic structures towards the perspective of socialism. This is an enormous challenge which until today has not been possible to finish but which left its mark in each reform carried out by the Popular Unity in its time and leaves its mark today in the Bolivarian process.
The declassification of the secret documents of the CIA prove all that was said: every blow against popular projects in Chile was conceived in the White House and implemented by the conservative political servants and large businessmen and media of the countries of the continent. In our country, one of the extreme cases is that of the recently deceased Agustin Edwards, who in 1970 ran to the embrace of Richard Nixon as well as Henry Kissinger and Richard Helms. These records are even registered in case 12 – 2013. [Agustín Iván Edmundo Edwards Eastman (1927 – 2017) was a Chilean newspaper publisher and one of the richest people in Chile. He published the infamous El Mercurio daily, the largest newspaper in the country.]
What is happening in Venezuela in our time is known by all. The same hands are pulling the same strings, despairing of popular governments that succeed in relating economic growth to increasing the capacity for consumption and protection of fundamental human rights. They are the same hands that provoked yesterday in Chile and provoke today in Venezuela shortages, hoarding, black markets and eternal queues to buy something. The day after the coup in Chile, the hoarders opened their doors and the queues disappeared, all as if by magic.
No one of that generation has the right to ignore what happened or look the other way. The experiences with both the right-wing parties and the so-called “right-center” (which might equally be “center-left”) are too similar. Varied positions on national development may be expressed but on condition that they do not challenge the essentials of the capitalist model…
Actions by terrorist groups, truck transport stoppages, assassinations and bombings—these were an important part of the coup maneuvers in Chile. Groups like ‘Patria y Libertad’ [Wikipedia], whose leader of then [Pablo Rodríguez Grez] became a dean of law (!) of a private university, committed various crimes.
They also contracted mercenaries, as is the case today in Caracas with those masked “volunteers” who shoot and throw bombs in the streets trying to make a “arised people” rise in revolt. With that, they reach out for support from sections of the middle classes.
And what about the recent hijacking of a helicopter, then used to attack the ministries of justice and interior and the Supreme Court of Venezuela? Obviously, as the coup plotters did in the Chile of 1973, the Venzuelan cooup plotters want to create an image of ungovernability and internal breakdown to justify international intervention. This is called, quite simply, fascist terrorism.
If the above is true, then how can we understand the many who have condemned the coup in Chile and yet support the opposition today in Venezuela? I am not speaking of those who, from one or another Chilean party, pushed the coup, whose parliamentarians approved the coup d’état declaration of August 1973, or those parties that had ministers when dictator Pinochet ruled. Those are already known. Nor do I speak of those whose top leaders went around the world to defend the coup, accusing Allende of the worst disasters, or who wrote public letters to prominent politicians from other nations. I speak of those who condemned the coup in Chile yet support the coup plotters in Venezuela…
There is a flagrant contradiction between the considerations of the United Nations and several of its agencies—all generally favorable to the Venezuelan government and highlighting its social achievements—and the open coup attempts of institutions and governments under the impetus of a person so deplorable and servile as the current secretary of the OAS, the former Uruguayan foreign minister Luis Almagro. Even the national representatives of MERCOSUR tried to discuss the Venezuelan issue a few days ago; it was striking that the Uruguayan government joined in that effort.
There are agencies and governments in the region that say nothing of the terrible events occurring in other countries of the [Latin America] region; nothing about their political crises nor of terrible acts and crimes.
We cannot be indifferent to the position of the Chilean Foreign Ministry, which has been increasingly open to the offensive against the government of Caracas. In a previous Chilean government, the chancellor [foreign minister] of the time joined the coup leaders [in Venezuela, 2002] who lasted less than 24 hours in power.
A few days ago, at a meeting of the OAS in Mexico, [Chilean Foreign Minister] Heraldo Muñoz acted as spokesperson for those countries that are attempting, once again, to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela. Referring to coup defenders who have been legally prosecuted, they spoke of “political prisoners” in Venezuela and warned against continuing along the legal path to a constituent assembly.
The response of the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodríguez, was fair and immediate. She called on the Chilean civil servant to be more concerned with promoting in Chile a constituent assembly that could supplant the current constitution of Pinochet.
Let us finally say that the essential difference between Chile and Venezuela is the attitude of the armed forces of the respective countries. In the case of the coup leaders of the Chilean Armed Forces in 1973, they were servile to imperialism and to the big bourgeoisie. The Armed Forces of Venezuela has been loyal to the people and to the progressive project that drives that government.
For the sake of respect for the history of the peoples of Latin America, it is a worthy cause to close ranks against sedition and defend intransigently the legitimate government of Venezuela. To do otherwise is shameful.
Canadian government and pro-coup agitators threaten Venezuela with anti-Russia ‘Magnitsky act’
Letter by Roger Annis to Globe and Mail reporter Michelle Zilio, August 3, 2017
Hello Ms Zilio,
I read the extensive references to a ‘Magnitsky act’ for Canada in your Globe and Mail article today on Venezuela. I draw your attention to the article dated Aug 2, 2017 by Robert Parry concerning the U.S. Magnitsky Act: A blacklisted film and the new cold war.
Mr. Parry draws attention to the blacklisting in Western countries of the documentary film The Magnitsky Act. Behind The Scenes, by director Andrei Nekrasov. He calls this a signal moment in the unfolding new cold war.
My strong impression is that Globe and Mail editors are too heavily invested in a new cold war with Russia for articles such as Mr. Parry’s to have any impression on them or on the slant of news coverage in the newspaper. And I note today’s lengthy Globe editorial, headlined, ‘In Venezuela, the despotic Maduro has got to go’.
George Ciccariello-Maher interviewed on Canada’s anti-Venezuela state-run broadcaster
CBC Radio One‘s weekday newsmagazine program ‘The Current’ broadcast a story on August 2, 2017 in which George Ciccariello-Maher is interviewed. He is a scholar, author and writer in the United States. He is the author of the recently published article in Venezuela Analaysis titled ‘Which way out of the Venezuelan crisis?’. Find that article here.
Ciccariello-Maher is interviewed for seven minutes by CBC. The interview is punctuated by haranguing by the CBC program host, expressing incredulity that democracy is alive and wellin Venezuela. The interview segment is sandwiched by two other guests. They describe Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro as a “dictator” who merits removal from office by any means necessary. That is the official view of the Canadian government and it is the bias that is dominating CBC news coverage.