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Sour Grapes, James TweedieProtected
"Sour Grapes-Unpopular parties boycott Venezuelan elections"
by James Tweedie
On Sunday the 4th December 2005, the Venezuelan electorate went to the polls for the eleventh time in seven years. The elections were for the National Assembly, Venezuela’s parliament. The turnout was 25%. This may seem low, even by British standards, but in fact it continued a steady upward trend in electoral participation since 1998.But this exercise in popular power was marred by the last-minute withdrawal of four opposition parties from the elections. Democratic Action (AD), the Social Christian Party (Copei), Justice First (PJ) and Project Venezuela (PV) raised various objections to the electoral, including to the use of electronic voting machines and a government campaign to increase voter registration, “Mission Identity”.Despite the National Electoral Council (CNE) acceding to 16 out of 17 opposition demands (including a manual recount of 45% of electronically cast votes), despite an agreement with independent observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS) that the electoral system was free and fair and that they would participate, these four opposition parties withdrew mere days before polling. The only national opposition party to participate was the Movement to Socialism (MAS).The result was that the Bloque del Cambio (Coalition for Change), which supports popular left-wing president Hugo Chavez won 88.8% of the vote. Chavez’s own Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) won 68% of National Assembly seats. This gives the MVR alone the necessary legislative majority to make changes to the constitution.Why did these four parties commit such political suicide? The truth is that the boycott was an attempt to discredit elections they knew they were going to lose, and lose badly. The opposition was divided, competing with each other for votes. Their policies are unpopular with the increasingly politicised working class of Venezuela.The political right in Venezuela has been in retreat since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998. Chavez won the support of Venezuela’s poor and oppressed and defeated the parties that had done nothing to lift them from grinding poverty.In Venezuela the gap between the haves and have-nots is stark. To drive from a wealthy district of Caracas to one of the outlying “Barrios” is like travelling from Chelsea to Soweto in half an hour.
As in South Africa, most of the working class are unemployed, and must make a living as informal labourers and hawkers. They live in breeze-block shacks with tin roofs, built on squatted land and on 45-degree slopes. When it rains hard these shanties are often carried away in mudslides, their occupants killed.The coalition government led by President Chavez has done a great deal for the ordinary people of Venezuela. They have brought free healthcare and education, affordable food, clean water, electricity, and the beginnings of a social housing program.
But in doing so it has also won the enmity of the United States government. The Bush administration sees the government of Venezuela as a threat to its interests in Latin America.
These interests lie in promoting uniform free-market economics throughout the continent, for the benefit of big business in the US, through the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). The effect of such economic policies on the ordinary people of Latin America would be ruinous. The dumping of surplus commodities on local markets, the privatisation of public services, the mass relocations of industries with resulting unemployment forcing people to become migrant workers.
Chavez’s opposition to the FTAA, his support for other left-wing Latin American governments and movements (such as the socialist state of Cuba and Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism), but most of all his great influence in the region have made him into Washington’s latest bogeyman.And so we have Thomas Shannon, US secretary of state for Latin American Affairs, declaring two weeks ago that democracy in Venezuela is in “grave peril”. So we have Pat Robertson, the evangelist preacher, calling earlier this year for the assassination of the democratically elected president of a sovereign nation.
And so we have a group of political parties in Venezuela, marginalised by their own policies but supported by a foreign power, attempting to discredit an election which they knew they were going to lose. The US Government will no doubt proclaim this act of political petulance as proof that Venezuela is in the grip of a dangerous tyrant. This is the same kind of rhetoric the White House uses against any government it wishes to overthrow by covert or overt means.
Now is the time for solidarity with Venezuela.http://www.vicuk.org/http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1658890,00.html