Venezuela: ten years after the peoples’ victory over the coup –
the Bolivarian revolution
Venezuela: ten years after the peoples' victory over the coup -
expropriate the conspirators
Written by Jorge Martín Friday, 13 April 2012
*Ten years after the defeat of the coup in Venezuela by the revolutionary
mobilisation of the masses it is worth looking back at the forces that were
behind the coup, the reasons why it was defeated and what happened
afterwards, as those events hold the clue to the class dynamics of the
President Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998 on the basis of an electoral platform which promised to do way with
the hated *Punto Fijo * system, put an end to corruption and eradicate
poverty. The *Punto Fijo *agreement signed in 1958 basically consolidated a
two-party system between the Christian Democratic COPEI and the
social-democratic AD. The two parties agreed to share all institutions of
state power, the judiciary, the trade unions, civil society organisations,
etc. in an amicable agreement. The people were allowed to vote for either
one of the parties, but the oligarchy would remain firmly in power. The
system was sustained by extended networks of patronage in which both *adecos
*[AD]* * and *copeyanos* [COPIEI] were able to give out jobs and subsidies
to large numbers of people to guarantee their political allegiance.
As long as oil revenues flowed into the state coffers, allowing a certain
degree of development and social spending, this limited bourgeois democracy
was the best way for the Venezuelan ruling class to maintain its rule. It
all came to an end, however, in February 1989, when the masses rose up
against an IMF-imposed austerity programme introduced by the *ADeco* Carlos
The government brought the army out onto the streets to smash the popular
uprising known as the *Caracazo*, killing thousands in the process. That
produced a massive fracture in the system. The masses, which had generally
been apathetic towards *puntofijismo* had now risen up against it. The
illusion of "democracy" had been broken by the realisation that the
oligarchy could only stay in power by brutally suppressing the people. On
the other hand, a group of patriotic nationalist junior military officers
were profoundly repelled by the idea of the Army being used against the
Venezuelan people. Amongst these officers who looked for inspiration to the
figure of Simón Bolivar (the hero of Latin American liberation from Spanish
colonial domination), was Hugo Chavez.
The failed attempted military uprising in 1992 against the old system was a
direct consequence of the Caracazo. However, although it was defeated it
established Hugo Chavez as a figurehead which concentrated the whole of the
seething hatred of the masses against the old order. In fact, the Caldera
government, which replaced Carlos Andres Perez, was forced to release
Chavez and his fellow conspirators under the pressure of the masses.
When Chavez's Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement 200 (MBR-200) finally
decided to stand in the 1998 presidential elections the *Punto Fijo* regime
was already mortally wounded. The favourite candidate of the oligarchy in
those elections was Irene Saez, a former Miss Universe standing on a
programme of ending corruption and bureaucracy, and presenting herself as
an anti-establishment candidate. At the end of 1997 she had 70% in the
opinion polls and later won the official endorsement of COPEI. However, she
was also the mayor of Chacao, the wealthiest of the Caracas municipalities,
and everything about her represented the wealthy, Westernised upper middle
class, completely devoid of any substance and with no links to the millions
of oppressed workers and poor in the barrios surrounding the capital.
It was clear that none of the candidates of the two main parties of the
ruling class had any chance of winning and AD and COPEI kept changing
theirs. Days before the election they decided to throw their weight behind
Salas Romer, the wealthy governor of Carabobo, who belonged to the ruling
class but wanted to distance himself from the *puntofijista* parties and
had created his own Proyecto Venezuela.
The campaign really revealed the depth of class polarisation in Venezuelan
society. Speaking the plain and colloquial language of the people Hugo
Chavez travelled the length and breadth of the country engaging in a
dialogue with hundreds of thousands in the poorest and most oppressed
layers. His message was simple, clear and appealing: against the old order.
For the first time in decades they were drawn into political activity, as
they saw a candidate which they could identify with and whom they
considered reflected their interests and aspirations.
His programme was certainly not socialist and he even toyed with the idea
of the "third way." There was even a section of the Venezuelan ruling class
which backed his campaign in the hope of using him as a battering ram to
clean the façade of Venezuelan politics and give bourgeois democracy a new
lease of life.
[image: CTV boss Ortega with army
boss Ortega with army Photo:AVN < http://www.avn.info.ve/>However, the class
interests of the forces that had gathered behind his campaign, the people
who had risen up in February 1989, were fundamentally in contradiction
with the interests of the landlords, capitalists, bankers, media owners and
wealthy parasites which formed the Venezuelan oligarchy, a tightly knit
group of about 100 families with grand sounding surnames which had ruled
the country for nearly 200 years.
Finally, in December 1998 Chávez achieved a massive victory, winning 56% of
the vote against 38.9% of the candidate of the oligarchy, Salas Romer. That
marked the formal end of *puntofijismo*, though the oligarchy remained
firmly in power.
Hugo Chavez took a number of bold steps to do away with the old political
system, by calling a referendum on the convening of a constituent assembly
(which was won with over 87% of the votes), elections to the constituent
assembly itself (where Bolivarian candidates won 95% of the seats), a
referendum on the new constitution (which was approved by 71% of the votes)
and finally new presidential elections in 2000 (which he won with 59% of
All this solidified his support amongst the masses and introduced a number
of democratic reforms to the political system, which however, remained
firmly within the limits of capitalism. The ruling class was increasingly
afraid of the revolutionary potential of the Bolivarian movement,
particularly the fact that the masses of the people were now directly
participating in politics, with hundreds of thousands getting organised at
a neighbourhood level in Bolivarian Circles and other revolutionary
It was the Enabling Law of November 2001, passed in order to approve a
package of 49 Laws, which brought things to a head. It is important to note
that none of these laws were socialist in their content. The two most
important ones dealt with the country's oil wealth and with agrarian
reform. The Hydrocarbons Law basically increased taxes and royalties on
foreign multinationals operating in Venezuela and established a requirement
of 51% state participation in any joint ventures between the state owned
company PDVSA and foreign multinationals. This was linked also to the issue
of government control over PDVSA, whose managers and directors were running
it as if it were their own private business and favouring the interests of
multinational companies. The Agrarian Reform Law contemplated expropriation
(with compensation) of idle landed estates in order to redistribute the
land to landless peasants and in fact was no more radical in its wording
than the 1960 Agrarian Reform Law.
These 49 laws passed in November 2001 in fact, did not go beyond the
pending bourgeois democratic tasks of the Venezuelan revolution. The fact
that the Venezuelan oligarchy (capitalists and landowners) raised such a
massive opposition to them shows their particular parasitical and
reactionary character, one which they have in common with the rest of the
Latin American oligarchies, but which in Venezuela is compounded by their
access to oil wealth.
Herein lies the main contradiction of the Venezuelan revolution. Some of
its tasks are indeed national democratic tasks (mainly achieving genuine
national independence from imperialist domination and the agrarian reform).
However, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie has proven completely incapable of
addressing any of these issues in 200 years since the country achieved
formal independence. Venezuelan capitalists are inextricably linked to the
landowners (many of them large-scale capitalist farmers) and to
imperialism. There is not one shred of democratic or national patriotic
content in them. Not only that, but when a democratically elected
president, Hugo Chavez, takes, for the first time, measures to start
solving these basic tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution, the
oligarchy organises a military coup to overthrow him.
This is the real content of the April 11, 2001, coup in Venezuela: A
rebellion of the property owning classes against an attempt to carry out
the national democratic revolution.
As a matter of fact, those events were a brilliant confirmation of the
theory of permanent revolution enunciated by Trotsky. The Russian
revolutionary, in drawing conclusions from the Russian Revolution of 1905
"With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially
the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent
revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks
of achieving *democracy and national emancipation* is conceivable only
through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated
nation, above all of its peasant masses."
Starting in December 2001 the ruling class, in close collaboration with
imperialism (both US and Spanish), elaborated a detailed plan to remove
Hugo Chavez from office by force. It is easy to know who was involved, as
on April 11 and 12, 2002, when they thought they had won, they were very
open about it. In the swearing in of Pedro Carmona, the head of the bosses'
organization Fedecamaras, as the new "president" of Venezuela, there were
about 400 people who all signed a register of attendance.
The list of the names in that registry includes the main capitalists,
owners of industries and companies, owners and directors of private banks,
owners and directors of the mass media, the hierarchy of the Catholic
Church, the tops of the corrupt trade union confederation CTV, the heads of
the main bourgeois parties, representatives of professional associations,
organizations of large-scale and medium sized bosses' organizations, PDVSA
directors, etc., etc.
Ten years after the event, they all like to deny they had any part in the
plot. It would seem as if it never happened, as the main actors deny any
prior knowledge or any participation in the coup! However, there are
pictures; sound recordings; video evidence and they are all in it.
The involvement of the US and Spanish embassies is now without doubt. The
coup plotters did not make any move without prior consultation with
Washington and not before getting the go ahead from their masters in the
US. It was a classic anti-democratic and anti-national coup.
The coup also revealed a deep division within the Bolivarian movement
itself. Many of its elected officers swore loyalty to the new coup regime
of Carmona, including a number of regional governors. Chief amongst those
was Luis Miquilena, a founding member of the Chavez's Fifth Republic
Movement and Minister of Justice, who jumped ship and re-joined the
oligarchy. He was not the first and was not to be the last one. As the
revolution has progressively moved further to the left and class conflict
has intensified, all sorts of bureaucratic, reformist elements usually at
the top of the movement have betrayed it and joined the class enemy.
At the other end of the Bolivarian movement, the revolutionary rank and
file, the masses, came out, bare handed and in less than 48 hours they
defeated the coup. That feat is quite remarkable and has few parallels in
revolutionary history. The Bolivarian leaders who had remained loyal to
Chavez were either jailed or in hiding. The President has been kidnapped.
The whole of the mass media celebrated the "peaceful transfer of power" and
spread the lie that the president had resigned.
[image: Revolutionary people Photo:
AVN]< link to www.marxist.com
people Photo: AVN < http://www.avn.info.ve/>However, showing a fine
revolutionary class instinct, hundreds of thousands came out on the
streets, defied the curfew and state of emergency and fought against police
forces. Tens of thousands gathered outside military barracks such as Fuerte
Tiuna in Caracas and the 42nd Parachute Division in Maracay shouting
revolutionary slogans. The sheer pressure of the masses split the bourgeois
army down the middle, as happens in every true revolution. Rank and file
soldiers, lower ranking officers joined in with the revolutionary people,
bringing with them a few commanding officers who were loyal to Chavez.
In the months and years after the coup it has become fashionable to argue
that its defeat was down to the coup plotters improvisation and internal
wrangling. The truth is precisely the opposite. It was the spontaneous
revolutionary movement of the masses which caused hesitation and divisions
amongst the coup plotters. Let nobody be fooled by this historical
revisionism: the coup was well prepared, carefully orchestrated and all the
actors played the role that had been adjudicated to them. This was not the
first oligarchic imperialist coup in Latin America and the script in fact,
closely followed that of the coup against Allende in Chile in 1973.
This was a "bourgeois imperialist coup" as president Chavez correctly
stressed in his speech on the 10th anniversary. However, not all
conclusions were drawn from this.
When Chavez was restored to power, on April 13, 2002, he came out on what
has become known as "the people's victory" balcony of the Miraflores Palace
and made a speech to the assembled masses calling for reconciliation and
talks with the opposition, the same "opposition" which had just organized a
military uprising against him.
The bourgeois media in
Venezuela and internationally revel in criticizing Chavez as an
authoritarian dictator, but as a matter of fact, if anything, he should be
criticized for being far too lenient with the oligarchy! I remember in my
first visit to Venezuela in 2002, talking to a working class housewife, a
profoundly Catholic woman who had only been brought into politics by the
Bolivarian revolution. She said: "when I saw Chavez on that day, come out
to the balcony with a crucifix and the constitution I thought to myself
'you should be coming out with Bolivar's sword to cut off the heads of the
oligarchic coup plotters'."
Reformists, of whom there are so many in the top echelons of the Bolivarian
movement, argued and still defend today the idea that the conditions were
not right, that the oligarchy should not have been provoked, that the
revolution did not have control of the Army nor of PDVSA, etc. But truth is
The oligarchy did not accept Chavez's open hand, but immediately started to
organise a new coup plot which materialized in the December 2002-January
2003 lock out and sabotage of the oil company. Once again, it was left to
the revolutionary masses to defeat the counter-revolution, this time with
the crucial role played by the oil workers who took over the running of the
industry and overcame the criminal sabotage.
This is the story that has been repeated over and over again in the last
ten years. The ruling class (for they still hold economic power and to a
certain extent control some of the levers of political power), have
launched one counter-revolutionary attempt after another. The
riots, the recall referendum, the riots over the non-renewal of the licence
to RCTV, the counter-revolutionary so-called "student movement", countless
provocations on the border with Colombia, the assassination of peasant and
other revolutionary activists, paramilitary plots, etc. On every single
occasion the masses have responded and smashed the counter-revolution.
But, also, in every single case, the victory of the masses has not been
used to deal a decisive blow against the oligarchy, but has been watered
down by the reformists within the movement.
A few years after the coup, Chavez, basing himself on his own experience,
stated explicitly that the aims of the Bolivarian revolution could only be
achieved through socialism. He could not be more right. The whole
experience of the Bolivarian revolution since 1998 shows precisely this:
without breaking decisively the resistance of the ruling class, not even
the most basic national democratic tasks can be achieved, never mind about
socialist tasks which are inextricably linked to those.
Ten years after the coup, the revolution has many gains to show in its
balance-sheet, in the fields of education, healthcare, literacy, etc.
However, the oligarchy still controls the banking system, the food
distribution chain, key sectors of the economy, the largest and most
productive landed estates... To put it bluntly, capitalism still exists in
Venezuela, and the capitalists are engaged in a relentless campaign of
economic sabotage and a permanent investment strike. They are using their
economic power in order to prevent the fulfilment of the democratically
expressed will of the majority.
The counter-revolutionary conspiracy has not ceased. A few weeks ago
president Chavez revealed that he had information of an opposition plan not
to recognize the validity of the October presidential elections (which the
opposition is likely to lose), organise rioting and create the conditions
for foreign intervention. He added that he had information of banks and
companies, both foreign and national, which were involved in this plot and
threatened to nationalize them using legal means included in the
Constitution. This is absolutely correct. However, one should not wait
until they attempt yet another coup before nationalising them, but rather
take pre-emptive action.
Impunity of the coup plotters is a major issue in Venezuela for many
revolutionary activists. Very few of the main actors of the coup have been
brought to justice. Some of them, like Pedro Carmona, are enjoying a golden
exile in Bogotá or Miami. Others, like some Metropolitan Police officers,
have been found guilty but given early release from jail. The majority are
free, have never been tried and make up the backbone of the opposition
parties. The current candidate of the oligarchy in the forthcoming
presidential elections, Capriles Radonsky, was part of the coup when he
personally led the illegal assault on the Cuban embassy (a violation of
The Supreme Court of Justice ruled that there had been no coup but a
"vacuum of power" which was filled by Pedro Carmona and the rest of the
coup plotters. When State Attorney Danilo Anderson finally opened an
enquiry into the coup and started investigating in 2004, he was killed with
a car bomb.
*The best way in which we can commemorate the peoples' victory against the
coup in 2002 is by drawing all the necessary lessons from it. The
Bolivarian revolution cannot be completed unless the power of the
oligarchy, which they use to prevent the democratic will of the people, is
destroyed. Socialism means the collective ownership of the means of
production, banks and the land, to be democratically planned in the
interests of the majority of the people. There is nothing more reasonable
and democratic than that.*
*In Venezuela, this could be carried out in a simple and fair way: get the
list of those who attended the swearing in of Pedro Carmona when he did
away with all democratic laws and guarantees and expropriate their
property, banks, landed estates, companies, industries, all of it.*
*There is only one force in Venezuelan society that can achieve this, the
same force which defeated the oligarchy twice in 2002 and in many occasions
since: the working class at the head of the revolutionary people.*
- *All power to the working people!*
- *Expropriate the conspirators!*
- *Forward to socialism!*
[HoV] London commemorates 10 years of the defeat of the coup
Written by Ross Walker
Friday, 13 April 2012
On April 12th, around 70 people gathered at a Hands Off Venezuela meeting at Bolivar Hall in London to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the defeat of the counter-revolutionary coup against Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. The meeting served as the premiere of 'Cuarto Poder', a documentary summarising the negative portrayal of the President Chavez in the Spanish media and the reasons for this negative bias.
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