Venezuela was declared socialist by Chávez, and so it is. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela is the largest single party, and it is by far the largest party in a progressive popular coalition that has governed the country for seventeen years. Prior to Chávez, the state-owned petroleum companies in Venezuela functioned autonomously, in collusion with international petroleum interests. The government of Chávez took effective control of the industry, incorporating it into a comprehensive plan for national development, which has included the development of a wide variety of social missions, attending to the social and economic rights of the people; and which has included a foreign policy of cooperation and the promotion of Latin American unity and integration. At the same time, popular councils have been developed, seeking to facilitate popular participation and education.
But socialist Venezuela has a mixed economy, which includes private ownership of importing companies. Venezuela is highly dependent on the importing companies, since the country imports seventy to seventy-five percent of the goods that it consumes. When these companies, with foreign financial support, reduced the availability of food, medicine and consumer goods through hording and the reduction of imports, a wave of price speculation was unleashed, leading to an increase in the cost of living. The government responded by purchasing goods in the international market and making goods available in state stores, but the desire of the people for goods could not be completely satisfied by the state-owned system. Moreover, the price speculation forced the state stores to also raise prices, in order to prevent buying from state stores in order to sell in an informal market. So the result of these dynamics was that desired goods were not always available, and when they were available, there were long lines to purchase them at high prices.
Other international factors have contributed to economic difficulties in Venezuela. (1) In the last eighteen months, the price of oil has fallen from 155 to 30 dollars per barrel. This has had a dramatic effect, inasmuch as petroleum accounts for ninety percent of the income from foreign trade. (2) China has adopted a model of slower economic growth, which has reduced the prices of metals and soy bean exported by Venezuela’s trading partners in Latin America. (3) The value of the US dollar has increased, resulted in a higher cost for all imported goods in Venezuela.
In conjunction with a media barrage against the government (most of the media remains privately owned in Venezuela) and the economic problems, the economic war was effective in stimulating a lack of satisfaction with the government among the people. Most people think concretely. They focus on the shortage of goods and higher prices, and they attribute the problem to those who have political power, without understanding the dynamics that created them. They blame the government for its inability to manage things well.
But rather than blame the government, it would be more on the mark to blame the capitalists and their political allies for adopting an unethical and unpatriotic political strategy. Is it morally acceptable for a capitalist to withhold desired goods from the people in order to advance a political project of opposition against the government, elected by the people? Is it patriotic to promote political instability in order to defend particular interests?
The economic war and media campaign had its impact on the December 6, 2015 elections for the national assembly, converting a majority for the coalition of progressive parties headed by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela into a nearly two-thirds majority for the opposition coalition.
As occurred in Argentina (“The Right takes power in Argentina” 1/4/2016), the Right in Venezuela played a political game of pretending to be in support of the people but in reality representing corporate interests. The French journalist Ignacio Ramonet observes that the opposition candidates hid their intention of neoliberal restauration during the election campaign. But once the results were in, they announced their plan of privatizing companies, reducing public services, revoking labor laws, eliminating social gains, and dismantling international agreements. Ramonet further notes that the Bolivarian Revolution continues to have the support of the majority of the people, and that those who voted for an opposition candidate for the national assembly in the context of the current economic difficulties did not imagine a dismantling of the revolution. Ramonet argues that to proceed to dismantle the gains of the revolution would be an error by the opposition, for it would provoke popular rejection.
With respect to the political game of the Right, questions should be asked. Is it ethical for a candidate for public office to speak vaguely in support of change, with the full intention of implementing specific measures that promote corporate interests? If a candidate intends to return to the neoliberal agenda of the 1990s, should it not be fully declared? Should not political campaigns be characterized by open, honest and respectful debate among the candidates? The difference between the Left and the Right in Latin America is not merely a difference in political parties. It is a difference between two alternative ways of being political. The one is rooted in an informed understanding and a commitment to the people; and the other seeks to manipulate the people and defend corporate interests.
The election of an oppositionist majority in the National Assembly creates a situation of political polarization in Venezuela, which will be discussed in the next post.
Key words: Chávez, Maduro, Venezuela, United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Latin American Right, opposition, socialism