Venezuela reelects Chavez

On 7th October Hugo Chavez won its third mandate which extends its government until 2019. Turnout was one the highest in Venezuela’s history, with 80.94% of the registered voters in Venezuela participating in the election. What does a Chavez victory mean?

In order to speak about Chavez one needs to differentiate between the ideological discourse of the Venezuelan government and the actual reforms that have been implemented throughout Chavez' fourteen years in power. On his speech, Chávez describes his political stance as socialist and Bolivarianist and frequently criticizes US foreign policies from an anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberal critical approach. In this critique, the power the US exercises in Latin America has served as warrant to secure raw natural resources and other vital interests in the region, as it is stated in CIA declassified files and Wikileak cables. This hegemony was behind the Washington Consensus policies, and it is still felt in Free Trade Agreements, in the War on Drugs, and in the projects that are developed through government agencies like the USAID.

Yet the focus of Chavez on the US as an authoritarian “menace to the world” sounds inconsequent when governments he has befriended, such as Iran, China and Russia, exhibit the same faults that he so readily demonizes in the US —as well as in Israel or other countries that are perceived as aligned with the policies from the US.

On the level of the reforms implemented, Chavez' socialist discourse has not transformed in practice into a scenario where we can speak of Venezuela as an alternative to neoliberal capitalism. This is not to say the transformations are not relevant. Government reforms have included the introduction of a new constitution which increased rights for marginalized groups, participatory democracy, an important agrarian reform, the reduction of the work week, the introduction of a system of Bolivarian Missions, Communal Councils and worker-managed cooperatives, and the nationalization of various significant industries. These initiatives had a strong and constant opposition and were constantly criticized on the account of corruption.

As much criticism as these reforms could receive when looking in more detail, they are an improvement upon the elites that have had controlled Venezuela and that explains why Chavez keeps getting elected — and why in 2002 people took to the streets to protest against the U.S. backed military coup, in which Chavez was kidnapped and the parliament and the Supreme Court were dismantled.

Additionally, while the population have embraced the idea of socialism (half the population agrees with the idea of building a socialist country, against 29% who oppose it), and have an awareness about participative democracy and social movements, the type of participation in which people is engaged has them taking decisions about resources, logistics and management but not autonomously discussing what are the changes they want and need.

But above all, the Bolivarian process as a socialist project and as a model has a clear limit in regards to how it conceives itself:  its oil-based economy in the country with the largest proven reserves of oil in the world.

The neoliberal capitalism that is justly criticized by Chávez on speech is not held under the same scrutiny when the government is signing deals with transnationals for the exploitation of mineral and oil resources. Furthermore, in this process neocolonial practices are reproduced by encouraging the exploitation of lands, by allowing the destruction of environments and of modes of lives and by going against the will of communities that are against extractive activities —suffering in their stand against the advance of capital the authoritarian means of state repression.

In the Latin American context, dominated by social unrest and conflicts of popular resistances against the rise of oil and energy extraction projects, the central question in the struggle between Capital and Life should be if the prevalence of the extraction model makes it impossible for alternatives and to take seriously the decisions of indigenous and peasant communities, especially their demands to protect the environment and to respect their modes of living