With presidential elections on the horizon, VA writer Andreína Chávez looks at the recent history and challenges facing the Bolivarian Process.
Revolutionary leader Hugo Chávez alongside President Nicolás Maduro on December 8, 2012. (Archive)
"This Revolution does not depend on one man. This Revolution belongs to the people and no one can stop it." Hugo Chávez
Recently, I went to a bar in a popular neighborhood of western Caracas that has a long history of revolutionary struggle against neoliberalism and fascism. The place it’s so old that it resembles a museum, with walls packed from floor to ceiling with curious items, including electoral cards from 1958, when Venezuela’s democratic period began, and newspapers from 2002 announcing the coup against Hugo Chávez.
I was surprised to see a picture of Chávez accompanied by his two daughters while on his hospital bed in Cuba. It was published in February 2013. I remember that back then that photo gave us hope that the president would be okay, but then he passed away just weeks later.
Above Chávez was another photo: President Nicolás Maduro inside the same bar we were, shaking hands with another man, perhaps the owner. The contrast between the two pictures sparked a conversation about the future of the Bolivarian Process, whether Maduro wins or loses the 2024 presidential vote. This is something that I’ve realized has the whole world worried. I suppose that is because the Bolivarian Process represents a beacon of hope for the future.
“I wish Maduro would come out and say, ‘Listen, I know I’m not Chávez,” one person told me. He meant it as some sort of apology from Maduro, for not being able to perfectly fill Chávez’s giant shoes. I understand where this feeling comes from too.
Chávez, of course, was in another realm when it came to politics. An exceptional leader who spearheaded an entire revolution. An inspiration for revolutionaries worldwide as the architect of twenty-first-century socialism and Global South liberation. Frankly, no Latin American leader from the 1990s holds a candle against him. He is a hard, if not impossible, act to follow.
Oftentimes, I’ve wondered how Maduro came to be the “chosen one.” He started as a trade union leader when he was a bus driver and supported Chávez from day one, later becoming his foreign minister and vice president. A friend once told me that Maduro struck her as the least controversial figure in the revolution, more humble than most, and even a good negotiator. Maybe that’s why he ended up in our electoral card in 2013.
Maduro’s victory and subsequent reelection in 2018 were votes of confidence given by the people who wanted to see the revolution triumph and understood the dangers of the hardline opposition reaching power. Will the vote of confidence repeat in 2024? If not, what happens with the revolution? In order to understand our upcoming elections, we need to evaluate the harsh circumstances the country has been forced to endure and people’s perceptions of the government’s actions and inactions.
The Full Moon
Who doesn’t remember when Chávez announced on national television that Maduro should be the candidate to succeed him in case he died? It was December 8, 2012, and this was the first time he talked about dying, at least in public, and the first time we wondered if our revolutionary process could really continue without him. Chávez words were pure poetry:
“My firm opinion, as clear as the full Moon – irrevocable, absolute, total – is that you elect Nicolás Maduro as president. I ask this of you from my heart. He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue if I cannot.”
Then Chávez died on March 5, 2013, and his words were haunting. Six months prior he had won the presidential election by an 11-point margin leaving opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in the dust—an incredible feat after 14 years of government. But Maduro didn’t have the same luck because he didn’t inspire the same trust. In April, while we were still mourning, Maduro won the election, but by less than a 2 percent difference.
The revolution would continue, but barely. This was for two reasons. On one side, the opposition launched coup attempts, an economic war and US imperialism intensified. On the other side, the government failed to respond with a revolutionary, radical, popular power alternative, opting instead for unsuccessfully negotiating with the aggressors and searching for a middle ground in both political discourse and economic policies.
The (Anti)Venezuelan opposition
After losing the election to Maduro, Capriles exhorted supporters to “unload their fury” in the streets, which was followed by the 2014 regime change plot called “The Exit,” crafted by far-right criminal Leopoldo López. At the time, I was working at a small leftist radio station that was almost set on fire with us inside before we were rescued. Others didn’t have the same luck. Forty-three people were killed, mostly civilians and security officers.
In 2014, we were also hit by low oil prices, igniting an economic crisis. In 2016, food scarcity worsened and prices were raised daily to the point you couldn’t buy a kilo of meat or a kilo of anything. To our outrage, images of hoarded, expired food circulated on national television. Long queues were our daily bread. This was just another regime-change strategy.
In 2017, we saw another fascist revolt kill over 100 people, including a young dark-skinned man who was burned alive for “looking Chavista.” That same year, US sanctions rained down on us like artillery, as a result of incessant lobbying by the far-right opposition. Our house was on fire and then they threw gasoline at us. Premeditated murder they call it in courtrooms. Thousands migrated, tearing apart the country’s social fabric.
When it was time for elections in May 2018, Maduro was reelected. I gladly voted for him. Even now, after writing all this, my blood boils with just the thought of the anti-Venezuelan, pro-imperialist and racist opposition reaching power.
However, his victory was the result of a few factors: the mainstream opposition called for a boycott so turnout was much lower than in previous elections, especially in wealthy areas. Maduro’s main competitor, opposition politician Henry Falcón, was not well-known and failed to mobilize voters.
Similarly, traditional Chavista areas didn’t vote massively either and this had all to do with a loss of confidence in the government. On one side, the government managed to defeat the fascist uprisings, which the general population, Chavista or not, never supported. But the backers of such violence, the same people who requested US sanctions and foreign military intervention, seemed to evade any punishment.
Leopoldo López was imprisoned but later escaped, as well as others. Henrique Capriles and far-right psychopath María Corina Machado only got a slap on the wrist: they were barred from holding public office. To this day, Machado is still calling for fascist revolts and interventions, while promoting US sanctions as necessary tools to continue killing people so she can reach power by force. She wants to “win and collect.”
Both Capriles and Machado, although still banned, are running for the opposition primaries in October and they are touring the country, telling people how they are going to fix all their problems, those they helped create in the first place. So when government officials warn of the danger these fascists represent if they ever reach power, people can only wonder why have they enjoyed so much impunity over the years.
The absence of justice is also perceived in the treatment of the business class. The economic war this sector imposed on us has never been overcome, it simply morphed from food hoarding and price hikes to squeezing profits out of workers. Peace is not achieved merely by not having street violence and long queues, real peace means preserving the rights hard-won during years of revolution.
Nonetheless, people gave Maduro and his government another vote of confidence under the promise of economic prosperity. Furthermore, nobody wanted imperialism and its puppets to win and turn us into a colony, especially after trying to kill us in every way imaginable and calling it “fighting for democracy.”
Timely warningsNow we are on the eve of another presidential election and the scenario has not changed much in terms of confidence in the government. In 2019, the US blockade intensified and an “interim presidency” brought more destabilization. Jailing Juan Guaidó would have turned him into a martyr and could have provoked a murderous reaction from imperialist forces, but letting him go has made the government seem incapable of bringing those who have harmed us the most to justice.
When it comes to the perception of the economy, this has improved. There is a good effort for diversification as well as opportunities to make a living through entrepreneurship. Still, without dignified public sector wages, most people are forced to scramble to have several incomes, thus either not caring much about politics or flirting with other political alternatives. That’s how fascists make sudden inroads, like Milei in Argentina.
Venezuelan revolutionary and former guerrilla fighter, Julio Escalona, who recently passed away, explained this very well in a speech on national television in December 2018:
"This confidence that the Venezuelan people have [in the government] has moved them to vote, in spite of all the difficulties, and that is a great faith. Do you know what comes after the loss of faith? Fascism [...] the people who voted for Bolsonaro are not machista or sexist or anything like that, but they became anti PT (Workers' Party) and that is why they voted for Bolsonaro. I think we should look at that example and take it very seriously."
In recent years, Escalona gave critical advice that was ignored time and again: He exhorted the government to accompany the people in their daily struggles and get rid of privileges, to purge the Socialist Party from internal actors that operate for the right-wing and confront the class interests conflict within the government (the so-called “revolutionary bourgeoisie”), to open debates in the streets and also listen to the anti-Chavista people, who might not care about the revolution but have suffered under the imperialist siege and want a good life.
More importantly, Escalona warned about minding the way officials talk when they tell people they will lose their rights, such as free healthcare or education, if they vote for the opposition, when those rights have deteriorated today. “The [US-backed] right wing, in its process of chaotization, has destroyed many things but we have not known how to rebuild them.”
A New Moon
Venezuelan journalist Clodovaldo Hernández has expertly explained that despite some Chavista people losing faith, the government still has a hardcore base and a well-oiled organizational structure to mobilize voters, whereas the opposition will most likely reach the 2024 election with several candidates and completely disunited. A radical fraction might boycott again.
Chances are we’ll see a repeat of the 2018 phenomenon. In such a case, I believe the Bolivarian Process will face the unique challenge of trying to unify again, which can only happen if the government accepts there’s a sector not happy with the liberal turn of the Bolivarian project. This includes leftist militants but also regular Chavista people.
For the record, the critical left also has some reckoning to do. Fighting for the revolution is not going to right-wing outlets and NGOs to call the government “neoliberal,” it is about accompanying workers in their organized struggle. Same thing with leftist talking heads, who these days are more worried about draining their anger than providing real criticism that gives clarity and mobilizes people to fight for rectifications instead of giving up.
Ideally, I would prefer if the left launched its own primaries and let the people decide on a candidate to represent the revolution in the 2024 election. I actually don’t mind Maduro, but perhaps people need a fresh start and a sense of control. We can’t forever draw inspiration from Chávez’s full Moon. Some might feel it’s time for a new Moon.
The other scenario is that a right-wing candidate wins. Or even a figure that does not represent the political establishment of either the traditional left or the right. Washington would get involved quickly to ensure that anything related to Chavismo is annihilated in return for sanctions relief. Sanctions won’t magically disappear until imperialism is happy. While this scenario is plausible, so far there’s no such outsider candidate in sight.
In any of such future worlds, there is only one thing that I’m confident about, the only “clear full Moon” I still see: The Revolution will not be defeated. It might take some internal fighting, a critical look in the mirror, and innumerable obstacles. It might even get interrupted for a few years. But it will only return much stronger just like Chávez turned into millions after he left us and bequeathed this tremendous struggle.
Andreína Chávez Alava
This article was produced by Venezuela Analysis.