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Empire Notes - Chavez and the Recall Referendum

At least until further notice, this is one to chalk up in the win column. It is a victory made all the more remarkable because of the forces arrayed against Chavez. At a minimum, they include the following: the Venezuelan elite; private broadcast media in Venezuela, which makes Fox News look like a model of probity and balance; major foreign oil companies, furious over his attempts to double the royalties that Venezuela charges for their concessions; and, last but not least, the U.S. government.

These forces used a remarkable array of methods, in what has been a rolling three-stage coup attempt.
Monitoring U.S. imperialism day in and day out can be, to say the least, kind of depressing. But sometimes there's good news.

The preliminary announcement by Venezuela's Electoral Council that Hugo Chavez survived the recall referendum, by a 58 to 42 margin with 94% of votes counted, is one of those cases. The issue is not laid to rest by a long shot; the opposition has contested the results and there are reports that some of the outside electoral monitors are pushing for "compromise" of some sort.

On the other hand, international oil markets seem to think the results are at least fairly conclusive, with oil prices falling on the news. This, by the way, is not because Chavez is perceived as a friend to big business worldwide but simply because fears of political instability should Chavez be removed from office have been temporarily allayed.

At least until further notice, this is one to chalk up in the win column. It is a victory made all the more remarkable because of the forces arrayed against Chavez. At a minimum, they include the following: the Venezuelan elite; private broadcast media in Venezuela, which makes Fox News look like a model of probity and balance; major foreign oil companies, furious over his attempts to double the royalties that Venezuela charges for their concessions; and, last but not least, the U.S. government.

These forces used a remarkable array of methods, in what has been a rolling three-stage coup attempt. First was the explicit military coup, on April 11, 2002. This worked much like the more recent coup in Haiti; Chavez, like Aristide, was kidnapped, and the claim was put out that he had resigned. Unlike Aristide, Chavez had considerable support among the military and that, combined with a mass popular uprising, undid the coup. Within two weeks, evidence that U.S. government officials met with the coup plotters and that the aptly-named National Endowment for Democracy funded organizations that supported the coup came to light.

The second stage of the coup attempt looked at least superficially much more democratic. Billed as a general strike, it was actually a combination of two things; a strike by management and technical personnel at the state oil company, and an employer lockout. The oil company strike crippled the Venezuelan economy and its oil production, which has to this day not fully recovered. Again, Chavez weathered this mobilization by a huge counter-mobilization and, when the crisis had passed, by firing many of the key people who had plotted against him.

The third stage of the coup attempt, superficially, was the ultimate exercise in electoral democracy. Theoretically, at least, referenda and recall elections go a step beyond the normal mechanisms of democracy, such as those we have in our national elections. In practice, referenda have been a favorite method used by dictators and would-be dictators, from Napoleon to Boris Yeltsin, to affirm and solidify their rule. And recently, as listeners are aware, we've seen more than one recall campaign masterminded by right-wing elite interests and pushed through successfully only through the use of huge amounts of money.

Chavez beat back the recall attempt through a massive use of state resources to mobilize the poor and the dispossessed. At every stage of the coup attempt, he had to be ready to acknowledge the class polarization in Venezuela (to which he has contributed by fighting for the poor) and to wield the power that he possesses on behalf of the class he champions.

For the last few years, Chavez has, more than any other head of state, challenged the U.S.-dominated New World Order and pointed out a path for others to follow. His victory in the recall, should it be affirmed, is just as important to the world as the heroic resistance of Iraqis in Fallujah in April and in Najaf as we speak.

Of course, this is not the end. Chavez remains a thorn in the side of the Bush administration, and John Kerry has expressed virtually identical views about him. Where there are three stages to a coup attempt, there may well be four. If Chavez beats the next one back, it will be, once again, by putting his faith in the people rather than in any hope that the elites of the world will play by their own rules.

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