Venezuela: on the Verge of Civil War?

by Jonathan Nack on April 22, 2013

In the wake of Nicholas Maduro’s narrow victory in Sunday’s election for President of Venezuela, the forces of reaction, backed by U.S. imperialists, are assessing whether they can use the moment to launch an overthrow of the Venezuelan government.

On April 19, Maduro was sworn in and took the official oath as President of Venezuela at a ceremony in the National Assemby attended by foreign dignitaries from over 60 countries.

Prior to his inauguration, Maduro put the Venezuelan right, the old oligarchy, the wealthy and their supporters, along with the U.S. government and all others, on notice with this warning:

“Here we don’t negotiate with the bourgeoisie. Here there is revolution. And if [the opposition] continues with violence, I am ready to radicalize the revolution,” said Nicholas Maduro, the President-elect, to a standing ovation at the headquarters of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA.”

Behind the calls for a manual vote recount by the opposition and its candidate, Enrique Capriles, lurks the counter-revolutionary Venezuelan right. They have been relentlessly trying to overturn the Bolivarian Revolution led by the late President Hugo Chavez.

Behind President Barack Obama’s refusal to recognize Maduro as the election winner, lurks the imperial interests of the U.S. government and of multinational corporate capitalism.

In response to a White House spokesperson who argued in support of the opposition’s demand for a further vote recount, President Evo Morales of Bolivia, replied bluntly:

“ I am certain that behind those remarks, the United States is preparing a coup d’ Etat in Venezuela … I would like to express that this is a flagrant U.S. interference in Venezuela’s democracy, as neither that spokesperson nor the U.S. government has moral authority to question electoral results in any Latin American country or around the world.”

Maduro was named the winner of the election and certified as President-elect by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE). The CNE reported that Maduro had won 50.8% to Caprile’s 48.9% of the popular vote. The Venezuelan Supreme Court denied an opposition request to force the CNE to do a manual recount of votes.

On April 18, the CNE announced that it has agreed to do an audit of 100 percent of the votes cast in the election in response to Capriles’ official request. The CNE had previously said that, in response to Capriles’ earlier request, it had audited 54% of the votes, and found no discrepancies, before it certified Maduro as the winner.

The CNE is an independent branch of Venezuela’s government which is in charge of organizing, conducting, and insuring the transparency of the election process.

The CNE has been widely praised by international observers for its outstanding performance in conducting past elections. The CNE uses a modern computer system that gives every voter a printed receipt so that they can check the accuracy of their recorded vote.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of The Carter Center, has said, “…of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

150 international observers were on hand to observe Sunday’s vote at the invitation of the CNE. Once again international election observers certified the election was free and fair, and the vote counting process was clean and transparent.

A delegation of observers from MERCUSOR wrote in their report, “the observers received information relative to the Venezuelan Constitution and the electoral legislation in a free and transparent form. At every point information was provided when it was requested or required, which confirmed the transparency and security of the Venezuelan electoral system.” The report concluded that, “All guarantees were provided so that Sunday’s elections were a success.”

At a ceremonial display of unity attended by high-ranking government and military officials on April 16, the CNE officially certified Maduro as President-elect. In a long speech televised live by TeleSur, a 24-hour Spanish language news television network based in Caracas, Maduro repeatedly held up a copy of Venezuela’s Constitution as he spoke to underscore the basis for the legality of his election.

He pledged to defend the Constitution, and to govern by the terms of the Constitution. Maduro called it “Chavez’s Constitution,” and described it as a great achievement of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Maduro invoked Pres. Chavez’s name countless times in his speech, referred to himself as “Chavez’s son” and described himself as “the first Chavista President.”

Maduro called on the opposition to respect the will of the majority and recognize the result of the election in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution. He said he is against violence, and called for calm. He made clear that continued violence by the opposition against the government institutions will not be tolerated.

Maduro also gave a warning that if violent anti-government protests persist, or grow, “ I am ready to radicalize the revolution.”

The spooks of the U.S., and of other capitalist countries, the CIA and their ilk, are not known for respecting the laws of other countries, nor their national sovereignty, and are doubtlessly working around the clock trying to figure out ways to use the moment to foment the overthrow of the Venezuelan government.

Two U.S. embassy officials were expelled from Venezuela on March 5. Air Attaché David Delmonaco, and assistant Air Attaché Devlin Costal of the U.S. embassy in Caracas were expelled for being implicated in “conspiracy plans” said to include secret contacts with members of the Venezuelan military to gauge their loyalty to the regime.

Capriles has said that Maduro is not a legitimate president. Many in the opposition are enraged and are calling for rebellion. There are reports of anti-government street protesters closing off roads in parts of the country with burning tires and rock throwing.

Yesterday, Maduro accused Capriles of triggering the post-election violence and said, “we have stopped a coup in its first stage. They are beaten, but they are coming back with a new attack,” reported Al-Jazeera.

The stage is set for a further escalation of the conflict. If the Venezuelan rich, their right-wing backers, and their U.S. and other imperialist sponsors, think they’re ready to launch an effort to overthrow the government, they could decide to move very soon. But are they really ready?

Are they ready to face off in the streets against the Chavistas and all the other defenders of the revolution? Are they ready for combat against the Venezuelan military which will loyally defend the Venezuelan Constitution and rule of law? Are they ready for guerrilla warfare against armed revolutionary militias deeply rooted in their communities? Are they ready to face the armed anger of the Venezuelan poor? Are they really ready to take on the unleashed full power of the Bolivarian Revolution?

In short, are the Venezuelan right and U.S. government ready to start a civil war in Venezuela? Because that is what it will likely take to overturn the election result.

Even with the military and economic might of the U.S. behind them, the Venezuelan right has good reason to fear launching a civil war. Venezuela’s wealthy still have a lot to lose. They still have their corporations, real estate, land holdings, servants, and luxury lifestyles.

The Venezuelan right, and its wealthy backers, remember how they were defeated when they tried to overthrow the government in April, 2002. The strategy they used then combined violent anti-government street protests and a military coup which included the arrest of President Chavez. The coup leaders proclaimed a new President, Pedro Carmona, who immediately announced the dissolution of the Venezuelan National Assembly and the Supreme Court.

chavezposterIn response to the 2002 coup, workers and poor people flooded into the streets to defend the revolution. Many were armed. They militantly demanded the immediate return of President Chavez. They warned the rich that if their President wasn’t returned immediately, they would take their protests, and their weapons, directly into the neighborhoods of the wealthy.

Faced with this extraordinary civilian defense of the revolution, as well as opposition from sections of the military that remained loyal to the Venezuelan Constitution and to Pres. Chavez, the Venezuelan right came to a startling conclusion. Restoring President Chavez was preferable to facing an enraged revolutionary public.

Within two days of taking power, the right and the military coup leaders were defeated and they retreated, President Chavez was returned to power, the government was re-established, while Carmona fled the country. Restored as President, Chavez sacked the disloyal military officers involved in the coup and promoted revolutionary officers to take command in their places.

The Venezuelan right also remembers how they lost the so-called “general strike” they started later in 2002 that extended into 2003. It was another attempt to force the government to resign. This time, the strategy relied on the management of the state oil company, PDVSA, to shut down Venezuela’s vital oil industry. The managers were told that the workers would be incapable of running the management side of the industry without them. Much to the dismay of the right and the imperialists, not to mention corporate management, revolutionary workers again rose to the occasion, learned to perform management tasks, and got the industry back up and running.

It was another epic defeat for the Venezuelan right. The corporate elite that used to manage PDVSA were dismissed from their positions. As workers fulfilled management functions, Pres. Chavez appointed revolutionaries to run the Board of Directors of PDVSA.

President Obama and the U.S. government also have good reason to fear backing a rebellion that could well break out into civil war in Venezuela. Governments throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and much of the world, would strongly condemn such a U.S. military intervention. A number of Latin American countries closely allied with the Venezuelan government might well offer it material assistance, perhaps even military support. The days when the U.S. could just throw its military weight around Latin America without resistance are over.

With the U.S. military already stretched thin and bogged down in the Middle East and South Asia, and with military tensions rising in the Korean Peninsula, no one can predict with any degree of certainty the outcome of the U.S. engaging in such a major confrontation in South America.

It’s conceivable, of course, that the Venezuelan right, backed by U.S. power, could succeed in overturning the election result, or even of overthrowing the revolution, but such an outcome is far from assured.

It’s also conceivable that people power, Venezuelan patriotism, armed self-defense, and international solidarity could combine to lead to yet another triumph by the forces of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Should the Venezuelan right and the U.S. government suffer another humiliating defeat, such as the defeats suffered in 2002 and 2003, they could well face the prospect of not only a more radically socialist Venezuelan government, but also of radicalizing all the various socialist and leftist governments, and radical and revolutionary social movements currently flourishing throughout Latin America.

There is no reason to doubt either the tenacity of the Venezuelan right in its quest to return to power, nor the relentlessness of U.S. and multinational corporate capitalist imperialism. On the other hand, the wealthy classes are always acutely aware of what they have to lose. The rich don’t gamble recklessly with their wealth.

All things considered, as much as they may hate to, the Venezuelan right and U.S. government might reluctantly conclude that they are not really prepared for civil war and have no alternative, at least for the time being, but to accept that Maduro is now President.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Arthur April 22, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Headline “Venezuela on the verge of civil war?”

Story: An election was held, the expected winner won, the expected loser demanded a recount as expected, and the recount is being held and expected to confirm the same winner.

Conclusion. No Venezuela is not on the verge of civil war.


Aaron Aarons May 1, 2013 at 11:23 am

Arthur Dent’s faith in the ability of bourgeois democracy to prevent bourgeois violence is truly touching!


Jeff K. April 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm

If outright armed conflict does break out, do you think there will be an effort to organize foreign volunteers to defend the revolution in a similar manner to what was done in Spain in the 1930’s?


Aaron Aarons April 23, 2013 at 2:52 am

In Spain in 1936, the foreign volunteers — at least the large number organized by the Stalinists and their “progressive” allies — weren’t recruited “to defend the revolution” but, overtly, to defend bourgeois democracy against fascism and, covertly, to defend the shell of the bourgeois state (emptied of the bourgeoisie that had gone over to the fascists) against the revolutionary working class and peasantry.

If a civil war were to break out in Venezuela, the most important foreign fighters to help the left would probably come from the FARC and the much-smaller ELN in neighboring Colombia.


Richard Estes April 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm

“There is no reason to doubt either the tenacity of the Venezuelan right in its quest to return to power, nor the relentlessness of U.S. and multinational corporate capitalist imperialism. On the other hand, the wealthy classes are always acutely aware of what they have to lose. The rich don’t gamble recklessly with their wealth.”

This is not just a Venezuelan issue, but a continental wide one. The racism and cruelty of the Venezuelan upper class is commonly known. A coup attempt could have explosive consequences throughout South America.


Pham Binh April 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

“A coup attempt could have explosive consequences throughout South America.”

Which is why we aren’t likely to see one. Maduro’s razor-thin margin of victory indicates that the right will have the most success at the ballot box in future elections (assuming Chavismo stalls politically).


Thomas Barton April 22, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Nack: “the wealthy classes are always acutely aware of what they have to lose. The rich don’t gamble recklessly with their wealth.”

Therefore, it would appear that there is a “socialist” regime presiding over a society with “wealthy classes”?

Presumably that would include Venezuelan billionaires like Gustavo Cisneros and Lorenzo Mendoza.

At least Nack is not making some absurd argument that there is socialism in one country — Venezuela — unless his view is that the economic relations of socialism are a society divided into classes, including “wealthy classes” of “the rich.” Complete with billionaires.

Binh is on target: the right observes rapid depreciation of the local currency and associated out-of-control inflation taking an increasing bite out working class living standards, especially increasing prices for and leading to serious shortages of imported basic food supplies.

Why risk a coup now? The right can play the longer game.

A disillusioning economic stall may indeed lead to the political stall of Chavismo.



Jonathan Nack April 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Thomas Barton: There is no claim by anyone, certainly not by the supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution, that capitalism and the capitalist class no longer exist in Venezuela. These revolutionaries view the struggle for socialism as an ongoing incremental process of class struggle against the capitalist class. Of course, Chavismo is a movement of diverse tendencies, and while all support the general strategic direction of the revolution, there are many different revolutionary and socialist ideas represented within it.

Pham Binh: The election was close, much closer than expected, but the margin of victory is not accurately described as “razor thin.” Why parrot the propaganda of the ruling classes?


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Is that ruling class propaganda factually incorrect?


Aaron Aarons May 1, 2013 at 11:00 am

How and when, exactly (or even approximately?) do supporters of the Bolivarian Reform expect to make the transition from a capitalist state to a socialist one? Do they really expect the Venezuelan capitalist class, backed by imperialism, to allow itself to be reformed out of existence, or even to allow its wealth and economic power to be substantially lessened without a violent showdown?

And these Bolivarians should ask themselves how, in a country they have governed for 15 years, right-wing opponents of their reforms that benefit the majority of the population could get over 48% of the vote in a national election.


Jonathan Nack April 30, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Binh: Yes. It is incorrect to describe an election margin of victory of almost 2 percent as “razor thin”. It’s flat out wrong.


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 3:54 pm

What is a razor thin margin to you? 1% or less?


Jonathan Nack April 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I would describe an electoral margin of less than .5 percent as razor thin. Any margin over 1 percent, let alone the 1.9 percent in the case of the Venezuelan election, I would never describe as razor thin. Maduro won by over 200,000 votes.


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I would say using the term razor thin is a judgment call. As far as I know, the ruling class propaganda machine claimed Maduro stole the election and focused on (non-existent) irregularities, and none of that came out of my mouth.


Jonathan Nack April 30, 2013 at 6:00 pm

All true brother Binh. It is a judgement call.


Jonathan Nack May 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Aaron Aarons: One should not mistake the fact that reforms in Venezuela advance mainly through nonviolent constitutional means, for the revolution being unarmed. The revolution is heavily armed – both its civilian and military supporters. This is exactly why Venezuelan capitalists cannot employ the kind of violence that characterizes the history of their rule in defense of their wealth.

As my article points out, the Bolivarian Revolution absolutely has the means to engage in armed struggle, should the old rulers and U.S. decide to take it there. This armed power creates a very different political dynamic than one in which an unarmed socialist party/movement participates in elections.

There is no blueprint for the ultimate transition from a still mainly capitalist economy to one that could be accurately characterized as socialist. Nor exactly what such a socialist economy will look like. Nor is there a time table. The struggle for socialism develops and evolves organically.

Yes, the Venezuelan government and PSUV have much to consider and a lot to deal with following the election result. Clearly, the revolution has lost a good measure of support which needs to be regained.

On the other hand, the Bolivarian Revolution has state power, a still powerful and vital people’s movement, and international allies, which enable them to address these problems. That doesn’t guarantee success, but at least they have the means to be successful. Time will tell.


Aaron Aarons May 1, 2013 at 5:36 pm

I don’t want to pretend to great expertise regarding Venezuela, especially regarding the last 5 years or so, when I have been paying less attention than before. But I’m skeptical of the judgment that “the Bolivarian Revolution has state power”. Have the various police forces, including the municipal police in Caracas and other cities, been purged of their main reactionary elements? Has the pro-landowner judiciary been purged or bypassed so that the murderers of over 250 peasant organizers can be punished.

In fact, why are there still big landowners? Why haven’t peasants been armed so that they can, together with revolutionaries within the armed forces, implement the land reform by seizing the land and crushing the pistoleros?

And, while this doesn’t relate directly to the question of who has state power, why have at least two supporters of the Colombian revolution, including one revolutionary journalist who is a Swedish citizen, been rendered to the Colombian state!


Jonathan Nack May 1, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Aaron Aarons: I am not an expert on Venezuela either, just a journalist/activist with some information and a point of view. You raise some good questions.

In regards to the police, I understand that they have been federalized and have undergone some considerable reform. However, I believe that there are still significant reactionary, corrupt and criminal elements. There are also areas of the country in which regional or local governments are in the hands of opposition, or in some cases non-revolutionary PSUV politicians, in which the police are still used against the people.

Police reform remains an ongoing area of struggle. So does reform of the government bureaucracy and civil service, which also remain plagued by reactionary, corrupt, and criminal elements.

Why land reform hasn’t gone along at greater speed is a question I share, but haven’t investigated. I don’t know details of the land reform struggle. I can, however, partially answer why there are still large landowners. My understanding is, if landowners don’t leave their lands uncultivated, and if they are otherwise in compliance with the law, the Bolivarian Revolution has not moved to take their land.


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