Chavez becomes more radical

Five years after a coup attempt, venezuela’s president announces a tightening of the leftist reform course

A "red tide" filled the streets of the venezuelan capital caracas, the south american country’s ministry of information declared after a rough demonstration by government supporters at the end of last week. Hundreds of thousands of supporters of left-wing leadership and president hugo chavez took to the streets on april 13. April 13 in typical red t-shirts to commemorate that day five years earlier. At that time, an attempted coup was also overthrown by mass protests after 48 hours. Then, as now, the mobilizations demonstrated the mass support of the people – especially from the poorer sections of society – for the government’s social and political reform process. And up to 70 percent of the people in the erdol state are poor.

Chavez becomes more radical

Demonstration on 13. April. Photo: harald neuber

While chavez supporters marched through the government district to the miraflores presidential palace, some 2,000 opposition activists gathered in altamira square in the capital’s affluent east side. "The truth about the 11. April" was the motto of their protest. Opposition parties and anti-government groups in venezuela continue to deny that there was a coup d’etat in april 2002 to demand "justice for the victims" of that year’s clashes.

In the course of the takeover on 11. April 2002 by right-wing militaries 19 people were killed. Five years later, both sides still see themselves as victims. At the end of may 2003, an agreement was reached between the government and the opposition, mediated by the united nations, the organization of american states and the u.S. Carter center. Nothing has come of it.

Differences over "socialism of the 21st century. Century"

In addition to the cultural and, above all, social divide, the two camps are separated by the political perspective. "Yes to democracy, no to communism," chanted people in altamira square – a traditional rallying point for chavez opponents. On the red t-shirts of the government supporters the counter-program could be read: "on the way to socialism".

After hugo chavez emerged victorious from the presidential elections in early december 2006 with almost 63 percentage points – the most promising of the 18 opposing candidates, manuel rosales, came in at just under 37 percentage points – this path is indeed being taken in haste. Less than two weeks after his re-election, the head of state had announced on 15. December, the head of state announced the formation of a socialist unity party (http://psuv.Blogspot.Com) of government forces announced. The previous loose multi-party coalition around the ruling fifth republic movement is to be combined in the new grouping. After initial resistance, in recent weeks parts of the social-democratic coalition "fatherland for all" (ppt) and "democratic and social pole" (podemos) have joined the new grouping, which is expected to emerge by the end of the year.

The change in the party landscape goes hand in hand with a political radicalization of the "bolivarian revolution". While hugo chavez praised the "third way" concept of anthony blair (great britain) and gerhard schroder (germany) during his first term in office after 1999, he is now propagating a "socialism of the 21st century. Century". As far as can be seen, the still vague plan is based on three main objectives: the demand for small and medium-sized enterprises, a new social balance and the development of regional strategies against the neoliberal economic policies of recent years. The contradiction of the process is that an original capitalist trade policy has not been abandoned. In march, chavez signed an agreement with argentine agribusinessman gustavo grobocopatel. The "king of the soy" will therefore receive 100.000 hectares in venezuela for the expansion of his business. In light of the government’s repeated announcements that it would hand over nationalized landholdings, some of which had not been farmed for decades, to small entrepreneurs and agricultural cooperatives, the agreement met with massive criticism in venezuela.

Private companies could disappear

Chavez was not impressed. An economic system does not change from one day to the next, he said last week. Thus, there is much to suggest that the government will continue to pursue its two-track course. On the one hand, deals are made with major corporations. On the other hand, the president has long announced the expansion of "socialist enterprises," an adjective that describes the general benefit rather than an explicit political task. The new "socialist enterprises" are found in the key industries, high and military technology and other strategic areas. Private companies that did not serve the interests of the venezuelan people, chavez explained at the same time, would disappear over the years.

A new role is to be played by the army in the construction of the new state enterprises. The time has come for it to become involved in socialist enterprises, chavez said, referring to a prestigious project: venezuelan soldiers are currently in china for training to control venezuela’s first intelligence satellite. The simon bolivar satellite is scheduled to begin operations in 2008.

Apart from this project, the involvement of the army in economic and social projects is not new. Chavez, himself a former militar, has from the beginning of his presidency advocated a more active role for the army in implementing reform policies. In the debate with the opposition, this is once again causing bad blood. It smells a politicization of the armed forces, which is forbidden by article 328 of the constitution. But even here chavez remained tough. The call for an apolitical army is wrong, he said over the weekend:

As a lieutenant, i was sent to the mountains to fight guerrillas (…) so what were the armed forces in the sixties?? They indoctrinated us for hours with anti-communism, they said that we were fighting against a damon and new u.S. Militaries kept coming, whose mission we carried out.

Hugo chavez on saturday at the fuerte tiuna barracks

Five years after right-wing militants staged a coup against the president, chavez called on the army to "serve socialism. The armed forces also had to follow the motto that the head of state wants to give to the new party: "fatherland, socialism or death".

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