Venezuela: Shock Therapy to “nationalise” and discipline the daily lives of the people
(Newspaper El Libertario)
With the excuse of bringing about greater efficiency in order to reverse the consequences of the great flooding at the end of 2010 which left over one hundred thousand victims, president Chavez has put a new law the National Assembly that would give him special administrative powers for a period of 12 months. At the same time, he wants the National Assembly to approve, in an extraordinary manner, another set of laws, without wide national debate limiting various political and social rights enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
This parallel is not a coincidence. After period of almost complete power between 2006 and 2008, a time of rare wealth thanks to the rise in world oil prices, the Bolivarian political project now faces, at least formally, having to deal with a National Assembly with a significant sector controlled by opposition political parties. It also faces the consequences of an economic crisis which will hinder operating through its previous cronyism.
After a decade of government and an agenda which prioritised ideology over solving the concrete problems of the people, the level of popular support for President Chavez has been transformed. He can no longer count on the unswerving loyalty of broad sectors of the population and is no longer assured of re-election in 2012. As 2010 draws to an end, discontent has reached a new level with, according to the human rights group Provea, an average of more than nine demonstrations, 80% of them over social demands such as lack of housing, lack of basic services, and bad working conditions.
The government response has been the so-called “radicalisation” of their political project, what the president himself calls the beginning of the electoral campaign. In place of Bolivarian project of a people's charter, now there is a vague project labelled “21st century socialism”, a repackaging of the 20th century model: modernisation based on extraction and exploitation of energy resources and a political system based on “charismatic “and populist domination, with strong military support.
The issue of legality
This couldn’t be more contrary to any interpretation of the Bolivarian slogan “participative and people-led democracy” , a partnership with the people. If we add to this the promotion of an ambiguous and contradictory “Communal Parliament”, also decreed by the new elites, then we see the legislature can be shunned, so negating the constitutional principle of “balance of powers” (executive-legislative-judicial) which motivated the competition in the parliamentary elections of 26 September.
Nevertheless, the most contradictory aspect of the new group of “people power” laws, now being promoted, is that the legitimacy of grass-roots organisations will not be based in their sustained work over time, nor from their dynamism. Rather the legal system that will decide. The proposal is to ratify in unision the following laws: the Organic Law of People’s Power, the Government Federal Council Law, the Council Law and the Proposals of International Cooperation Law, the Defence of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination Law. Each of these establishes categories for the institutionalisation of work at the base, redirecting it through communal councils and communes which have already demonstrated their lack of independence and limited autonomy.
During much of the 20th century states could openly and directly repress internal dissidents. Now, however, even economic agreements have a human rights cause, obliging a state to comply with democratic formalities. It has become increasingly difficult to hide or disguise disappearances and other methods of open repression, thanks to the a constant and dynamic information flow, stimulated by new technologies. Therefore states now use the justice system and electoral rites as a source of international legitimacy. Within the new progressive governments of Latin America, including Venezuela, the intention of all these pseudo-legal initiatives is to brand as illegal those social sectors which criticise and oppose new projects of domination. Non-compliance with laws, in this era of “anti-terrorist struggle”, is sufficient ground to make it politically acceptable to repress troublesome social actors.
Death of internationalism
Socialist thinking, long before the internet, argued that national frontiers and that the only homeland of the proletariat was humanity itself. With the exception of the Soviet Union, every revolution proclaimed the need for a world revolution that would catalyse for man to stop being a wolf among men – or women. Revolutionaries in those times felt the misfortunes of others as their own, no matter how far away they were. Some of the most beautiful chapters of the struggle for human equality resulted from this spirit of generosity.
This seems to be a thing of the past. By arguing the need to defend notions now superseded elsewhere – bourgeoisie, sovereignty, self-determination … - in Venezuela we are sentencing internationalism to death. Both the International Cooperation Law as well as the Defence of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination Law expressly prohibit the solidarity and cooperation which animates social networks in the struggle against globalisation and capitalism for the respect for human rights and the dignity of people. The National Self-Determination Law is particularly dangerous. Defining as “political” those organisations aiming “to promote participation by citizens in public spaces, to exert control over public authorities or promote candidates who aspire to occupy elected office”, it expressly forbids them from receiving resources from foreign organisations or from foreigners being invited to the country who “give opinions which offend the state’s institutions, civil servants or who threaten sovereignty from being exercised”. This might appear to be a measure against “right-wing” or “pro-coup” factions, but its objective is to asphyxiate all non-state actors. This will have significant consequences on the development of revolutionary thinking which by its nature is critical and questioning. This objectively prevents Venezuela from once again becoming, for example, hosts for events such as the World Social Forum in which, despite their co-optation in the event of 2006, cracks could be seen when harsh criticism of the 21st Century Socialism appeared. Social and grassroots initiatives which want to participate in regional or global social movements, such as the IV International or Social Watch will be forced into illegality and will have to go underground. They will no longer be able to receive donations in order to print their publications or carry out the activities of left wing or anti-capitalist campaigns of the so called “first world”, and they won’t be able to attend international events unless they pay out of their own pockets.
Normalisation of censorship
In 2006, a reform of the Penal code penalised, amongst other things, the closing of streets by demonstrators. At the time, the sectors supporting the Bolivarian government supported this measure by arguing the need to struggle against coups. What was not foreseen was how quickly it would be used against social sectors who have historically closed streets as a way to demand the rights: the grassroots sectors. Now, more than 2,500 people are being put on trial for having participated in a demonstration which “obstructed the right to free circulation” and according to pro-government sources, over 70% of these people are sympathetic to Bolivarianism.
There will be similar consequences from the “Reform bill for social responsibility on radio and television”, which also regulates internet use. Amongst the type of messages which will be banned at any hour of the day, are discretionary categories such as “those which could incite or promote and/or justify crime”; “those which could equate to media manipulation, thus fostering citizen unrest or causing a breach of the peace”, “those which are aimed at not recognising the authorities as being legitimate, which disrespect Public Authorities or people who hold posts of responsibility”; “Those which can incite or promote non-compliance with the existing Legal Code”. In this new law, it states that the government will restrict “without delay” the dissemination of these types of messages.
The objective of this law is to silence voices critical of the Venezuelan government and who use the internet, in a context of extreme polarisation of the media, and where the self-styled “alternative” and “community-based media” have become appendages of the new State information hegemony, thereby turning their backs on true people's struggles.
In the situation of the post-flood emergency, Chavez's project is to discipline the population into playing its role in the global economy, which is nothing more than ensuring that energy resources are provided on the global market in a safe and reliable manner. The State – historically denounced as the enforcer of inequality and usurper of the capacities for free men and women to act in solidarity – is now taking over space in everyday life. Will the Bolivarian project trigger its own demise by sharpening its contradictions? Only the struggles at the grassroots in the coming months will be able to confirm this.
Ps1: For an analysis of the Government Federal Council Law please read: http://rafaeluzcategui.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/consejo-federal-de-gobi…
Ps2: For an analysis of the Communes Law please see: http://periodicoellibertario.blogspot.com/2010/08/ley-de-comunas-refund…
Translation by Francesca Denley