A useful article by George Ciccariello-Maher on today's vote in Venezuela, coverage thereof here in the US (especially the New York Times) and the context in Venezuela:
The point that Ciccariello-Maher raises, and which is being raised by many observers even within the Obama administration is that term limits in and of themselves by no means make democracy. This was even registered, albeit briefly, in an otherwise horrible article by Simon Romero in today's NYT
"The Obama administration seems to have adopted a nonbombastic approach to dealing with Venezuela, even as it was faced with questions over the referendum campaign. “That’s an internal matter with regard to Venezuela,” Robert Wood, a State Department spokesman, said when asked this month about the referendum."
That Venezuela's sovereignty is for the moment being respected by Washington is a good thing indeed. How long it will last remains to be seen. The deepening economic crises in the US and throughout the capitalist core economies mean that less time and resources can be spent interfering with governments in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, a trend that was established early on in the Bush presidency. After initially promising to focus on hemispheric relations, the Bush administration all but turned its back on the region. Its now ‘normal’ meddling in the internal affairs of Central American and South American democracies was increasingly outsourced to NGOs funded in part by the National Endowment for Democracy and other ‘civil society’ projects. The ‘internal oppositions’ that emerged in the shadow of the empire, especially in Venezuela and Bolivia, turned out to be inept and overconfident, weakening their position with every misstep. Other regimes in the region’s so-called ‘pink tide’ have been less plagued by the fading empire’s bumbling – getting ignored in reward for their milktoast politics.
Hillary Clinton's first trip as Secretary of State to Asia signals a continuation of Bush-era policies in the region. The focus continues to be the poorly executed neoconservative plan to establish ‘footholds of democracy’ in the Middle East in order to contain Russia and China. While the plan’s execution will no doubt be less ragingly bellicose than that of the Bush team, 8 years have made it a fait accompli. There is no other choice but to continue apace as the Empire crumbles, or so the logic goes. US financial power has definitively passed on, the stimulus will fail (David Harvey’s thoughts on the scheme here: <a href="http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/bullet184.html">), and thus it needs something to leverage a smoother collapse. What emerges in the aftermath of the US’s dominant position in the capitalist world system remains uncertain.
All this begs the question, especially vis-à-vis Venezuela: whither socialism?
Chávez has been in power for 10 years now. The Bolivarian Revolution – a social process that needs to be understood in its longue durée as having kicked off with 1989’s Caracazo rather than with the 1999 Constitutional Referendum – has put the question of socialism back in the imaginary of Venezuelans and the poor throughout the world. However, and this is key, in the 4 years that the Revolution’s trajectory has been nominally ‘socialist,’ ‘Socialism’ has stubbornly persisted in being something of an empty signifier. Finding content, defining ‘socialism,’ is an intense physical and theoretical struggle that continues in Venezuela today and is quite distinct from the question of term limits or the institutions of democratic governance.
Chávez is, without a doubt, central to the revolutionary process in Venezuela. In the first and most important aspect, he has been able to balance the forces at play in the country, steering the country clear of the civil war that has been in the offing for at least 30 years. Secondly, he has provided an institutional umbrella under which progressive forces have been able to make unprecedented headway. The hope here is that by the time he would come up for re-election in 2024, he wouldn’t be necessary. Better, the office of the president would no longer be called for, as the parallel institutions currently gestating in the country will by then have developed beyond the constraints of representative liberal democracy.
It is, in other words, a generational question both in the sense of creating the new as well as of years. Either way, the question is bigger than Chávez.