April 2012        

The coup that failed

Guatemala, 1954; Brazil, 1963; Chile, 1973; Uruguay, 1973; Argentina, 1976; Haïti, 2004; Honduras, 2009—this is by no means an exhaustive list of successful coups d’état against progressive or independent-minded governments carried out by the United States in alliance with the Latin American right.
     We have, however, two great failures to celebrate: the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961, and the Venezuelan coup d’état of 2002, ten years ago this month. The Venezuelan coup was very carefully prepared, according to a blueprint previously used in Chile and subsequently repeated successfully in Haïti: economic sabotage, strikes organised by the employers, and a massive press campaign, culminating in a military coup.
     Venezuela seemed an ideal candidate for this strategy. It has a large middle class (petty bourgeoisie and better-off workers), whose lives are very much separated from the poor majority. They could be mobilised in quite large demonstrations and manipulated by the conspirators.
     The events of 11–14 April 2002 have been well recorded by Donncha Ó Briain and Kim Bartley in their film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. This film refuted the version of events prepared in advance by the plotters. It also showed the mobilisation of millions of people against the coup. This massive popular demonstration, combined with the support that Hugo Chávez enjoyed among the soldiers, ensured the collapse of the coup.
     With the defeat of the coup, the process known as the Bolivarian Revolution became deeper and more radical. With the rising consciousness of the working class and the logic of the national liberation struggle the movement necessarily took a socialist direction. This was proclaimed by President Chávez, and the party he leads took the name United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
     Throughout the continent, popular movements took courage from the Venezuelan people’s victory, most spectacularly in Bolivia.
     With the election of Chávez in 1998, and even more so since 2002, the isolation of Cuba has been broken, though it still suffers from the US blockade.
     In 2004 Cuba and Venezuela founded the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an organisation of economic co-operation. It was subsequently joined by Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominica, the Grenadines and Antigua. Honduras’s membership was terminated by the coup d’état in 2009.
     Cuba and Venezuela have been mutually supportive. One of Chávez’s first projects was Barrio Adentro, in which Cuban doctors came to work in the barrios that had never had a medical service, as Venezuelan doctors just did not go there.
     Now Cubans are training a new generation of Venezuelan doctors, committed, like them, to serving the people. (See Revolutionary Doctors by Steve Brouwer, available from Connolly Books.)
     Misión Robinson, the campaign to eliminate illiteracy, was guided by Cuban expertise. Other “misiones” were aimed at raising the educational level of the people, especially the many who had not had the opportunity. “Bolivarian schools” have transformed education in the barrios, and the Bolivarian University opens up third-level education.
     It is characteristic of these and other social missions that they have not been created by the established institutions of the state. Chávez chooses to go around them rather than confront them. This reflects a continuing weakness of the “process.” The capitalist state and its bureaucracy remain in place.
     In the class struggle, the state, or even the PSUV, is not necessarily on the side of the workers. It took a long struggle by workers in the steel industry to achieve the nationalisation of the major company, SIDOR, in 2008. They were opposed by the PSUV governor of the state of Bolívar. This case, though the largest, is far from unique.
     One of the demands of the trade union movement (UNETE) has been for a new labour law. The Communist Party and UNETE have been campaigning for this for some time; the main cause of delay has not been the opposition parties but forces within the PSUV and the state. The new law is now expected in May.
     At its congress last August the Communist Party proposed the setting up of a broad national alliance with a collective leadership, not only for elections, and including social organisations as well as political parties.
     This has been accepted in principle, and the Gran Polo Patriótico (Great Patriotic Pole) has been set up along those lines. The first task it has set itself is the winning of the presidential election in October—but hopefully it will succeed in transcending electoralism.
     The opposition has not changed: its presidential candidate, Capriles Rodonski, was an active participant in the 2002 coup. The privately owned press and television lead the opposition; their campaign of vilification is taken up by the media around the world, including the Irish Times, whose correspondent Tom Heneghan described Chávez as a “pariah.”
     The threat from the United States has not gone away. The US Fourth Fleet and its military bases in Colombia are pointed at Venezuela. Colombian paramilitaries operate in Venezuela, in spite of Chávez’s misguided appeasement of the Colombian regime.
     Obama’s penchant for regime change has been noted. The recent ALBA summit meeting condemned the imperialist-orchestrated attacks on Syria, the only group of countries to do so.
     In a world dominated by imperialism, Venezuela has faced many challenges, internal and external, in the past ten years. The challenges ahead will be no less difficult.

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