For over a year they had been agitating for it, and finally they got it: the Venezuelan opposition, having tried and failed to overthrow President Hugo Chávez first by a military coup and then by paralysing the oil industry, turned to a constitutional device introduced by Chávez himself, the recall referendum.
Since Chávez’ Bolivarian Constitution allows for such a referendum against any elected official at mid-point in their term of office, theoretically it was possible to throw him out by popular vote. To do this it was necessary to first collect the signatures of 20% of the electorate (roughly 2.4 million under the old electoral register), and then in the actual referendum to get more votes for a recall than Chávez had received when elected (some 3.7 million), and also more than the number of pro-Chávez votes in the referendum.
After months of procedural wrangling and arguments over fraudulent signatures, in June the National Electoral Council (CNE, Consejo Nacional Electoral, an independent body) announced that the opposition ‘Coordinadora Democratica’ had obtained slightly more than the necessary 2.4 million signatures, and set 15 August as the referendum date. Many commentators, deceived by opposition propaganda, saw this as a body-blow to Chávez” “Bolivarian Revolution” as they took at face value the highly unreliable opinion polls conducted by the ferociously anti-Chávez Venezuelan private media. As polling day approached, however, independent assessments gave Chávez a growing lead of anywhere from 5 to 20%.
Once again crying fraud long before the actual vote, the opposition demanded changes in the voting procedure and for verification by the U.S. based NGO Carter Centre for Human Rights, the OAS (Organisation of American States) and other international observers – all of which they got. In the event the procedure was one of the most rigorous in the world, with new computer software supplemented by paper print-outs, and an updated and greatly expanded electoral register. For the last 20 years Venezuelan elections have been characterised by massive abstention rates of 35 to 50%, but on 15 August long queues of voters began to gather from the early hours, many standing in the hot sun all day to cast their ballots.
What resulted was the biggest voter turn-out in the country’s history, an unprecedented show of civic enthusiasm – and unlike previous elections, violent incidents were few and far between. The polling hours were extended to midnight to accommodate people waiting to vote, and when at about 3 am on Monday 16 August the CNE announced provisional results (on the basis of a 94% count, about 8.5 million votes it became clear that Chávez and the revolution had scored another great victory, the eighth in six years: the “No” (to recall) had 58.25%, against 41.3% “Yes” (for recall). Later figures, that were still incomplete, showed an even more decisive chavista victory: nearly 60% “No” to only a little over 40% “Yes”.
Opposition sour grapes
Predictably, the opposition (well described by Chávez as the ‘Undemocratic Discoordinator’) reacted by crying fraud and persisting in this position despite the certification of the results by all the international observers. Indeed, when in response to further opposition demands the CNE, the Carter Centre and the OAS agreed to a supervised audit of 150 polling station counts selected at random, the opposition refused to attend the audit. This show of sour grapes became so ridiculous that it soon led the international media – in a dramatic change from their previously anti-Chávez position – to condemn the opposition. Indeed, establishment papers like the “New York Times”, “El País” of Spain and Canada’s “Toronto Star” commented that the opposition’s attitude was dangerously anti-democratic, and that they should recognise that they do not represent the majority of Venezuelans and accept their minority status.
With this eighth electoral triumph, the way is clear for Chávez’ so-called “Bolivarian Revolution” to enter into a new phase. On August 21, William Izarra, Director of Ideological Development for Chávez’ Fifth Republic Movement, declared that ‘It will be necessary to revise the structure of the revolutionary process in order to consolidate it’. The ratification of the process by almost 60% of the electorate ‘will make it possible to deepen the political changes and overcome the structural obstacles which have held up the progress of this revolution’. Izarra went on to say that the “Missions” – the social programmes such as the literacy campaigns, the neighbourhood health clinics, etc – would be broadened and opened to all Venezuelans, not just the poor. There would also be a ‘deepening of the theoretical aspect’ with the participation of the entire people in Centres of Ideological Preparation.
Chávez, while showing an openness to dialogue with the opposition and a desire for reconciliation, has also been insisting on the advance of the revolutionary process. Talking to the foreign press on 18 August he proclaimed that ‘With the referendum the birth of the Fifth Republic is complete’ and that the period of transition was over. He also said that it was necessary to carry out ‘the integral transformation of State institutions, including the Justice system’ in order to end corruption and class bias.
Then on 20 August in a message to the nation, he insisted on the importance of the 49 ‘Facilitating Laws’ passed by decree in November 2001 (but still only partially implemented) which laid the basis for the agrarian reform, the new petroleum law and other fundamental changes. These laws, he said, had begun to put the fine words of the new Constitution into practice. He put special emphasis on the results of the Hydrocarbon (oil and gas) Law, which meant that for the first time the oil revenues were being invested in the country’s overall development, and on the Electrical Industry Law which stopped the privatisation of that sector. He also stressed the recovery of control over Venezuelan territorial waters, including the modernisation of the country’s naval bases.
Bold nationalist moves
Those on the left who criticise Chávez for not nationalising key industries should consider that in today’s neoliberal context, the mere halting of privatisation of two of the country’s major resources is a bold move and everything suggests that the Bolivarian government is preparing itself to defend national sovereignty on all fronts. Although international recognition of the referendum victory was almost universal, in the case of the U.S., the State Department hedged its recognition with concerns about the accuracy of the vote, echoing (although less hysterically) opposition cries of fraud – which suggests that it may discreetly favour the violent and destabilising tactics of extreme opposition sectors.
Chávez has adopted the intelligent approach of trying to separate the opposition’s extremist leaders from the opposition’s popular base, insisting that the majority of their voters do not identify with these leaders who have deceived them. But this will not prevent certain groups, with clandestine U.S. support, from attempting destabilisation. State and local elections are due on 27 September, and are likely to result in the opposition losing most of the 9 state governors it still has. The context is favourable to further advances of the revolutionary process, but constant vigilance and international solidarity will be more important than ever.
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.