Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles demanded a recount after the announcement that Maduro won by a margin of less than 2 percent. Washington chimed in on cue: “A 100 percent audit of the results” is “important, prudent and necessary,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney April 15.
Capriles called for protests in the streets, including a mass march in Caracas April 17, but called it off after Maduro accused Capriles of planning a coup.
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council announced April 18 that it would conduct a full audit.
Chávez, a former army commander, was elected president in 1998, amid mobilizations by working people against government austerity and repression. His platform promised a “third road” between socialism and capitalism. He was reelected in 2000, in 2006 and then again against Capriles in 2012.
In a move that earned the enmity of Washington and a substantial section of capitalists in Venezuela, Chávez reorganized the country’s oil industry into a state capitalist enterprise and used a part of oil profits to subsidize food and fuel costs and to fund social programs. He hired construction companies to build housing in poorer neighborhoods. Some 160,000 peasants received titles to fallow land during his terms as president — though more than 80 percent of agricultural land remains in capitalist hands.
Chávez denounced the U.S. war in Afghanistan; developed friendly relations with the governments of Iran, Libya and other nations in conflict with Washington; and worst of all in the eyes of U.S. imperialism maintained close ties with revolutionary Cuba.
On April 11, 2002, Venezuelan capitalists and generals with the backing of Washington, arrested Chávez. In response, tens of thousands of working people took to the streets. The military command split, the coup collapsed and the democratically elected government was restored, giving workers confidence and providing impetus for struggles of workers and farmers.
The Venezuelan government further infuriated Washington by accepting Havana’s aid to establish missions staffed by tens of thousands of Cuban volunteers. The most prominent are Barrio Adentro, where some 20,000 Cuban doctors provide free medical care, and Misión Robinson, a literacy program that has taught more than 1.5 million Venezuelans.
As part of an agreement of mutual cooperation, the Chávez government has been sending more than 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil a day to Cuba, an enormous help to that country’s ability to weather the crippling effects of the U.S. economic embargo.
Contradictions of third road sharpenBut expansion of government social programs, price and currency controls, and nationalizations did not make Venezuela less vulnerable to the impact of the worldwide economic crisis that is bearing down especially hard on semicolonial countries. As the crisis sharpened, so too have the contradictions of a third road, later coined “socialism of the 21st century.”
Venezuelan oil production has declined 25 percent since 2001. Inflation, between 20 and 30 percent annually, has hit working people especially hard. And crime has become a rampant social problem.
In February this year, the Chávez government implemented an 80 percent currency devaluation aimed at lowering the ballooning government budget deficit. This meant a sharp price hike for imported goods on top of the already high inflation.
During the elections, Capriles tried to recast his image as a “progressive” politician who would attack the “corruption” of Maduro and the chavistas.
Capriles promised to raise wages 40 percent and told his followers they should reach out to the “red shirts” (followers of Chávez) to fight crime. He toned down his criticism of the late Chávez himself and disingenuously sought to capitalize on Chávez’s popularity and his opponent’s weaknesses, telling Maduro, “You’re no Chávez.”
Capriles claimed he would “strengthen the missions,” while in the same breath announced he would kick Cuban advisers out of the Venezuelan army and that “not a drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros.”
But as capitalist exploiters from the U.S. to Venezuela fret about the outcome of an election, their biggest problem lies outside their shortsighted view: the class struggle that is beginning to simmer underneath the surface and the revolutionary battles for workers power that lay ahead, not behind.
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