Saturday, April 11, 2009

Every 11th has its 13th

Seven years ago today, a coalition of the Venezuelan military high command, the privately-owned media and the national chamber of commerce forced Hugo Chávez from power after precipitating a series of crisis that ended in the Puente Llaguno massacre. Elements of the Metropolitan Police force involved in the shootings were recently sentenced for up to 30 years, the first and only prosecutions that have taken place since the media-orchestrated coup.

When Chávez was elected in 1998, the Venezuelan political scene was in complete disarray. The traditional political parties which had run the country since 1958 (and excluded all competition) were completely discredited, and while they persist to this day, they are but emaciated echoes of their former selves. Without an effective or organized opposition, the privately run media and many US-funded NGOs stepped in, decrying the country's march towards 'socialism' long before socialism was on the agenda. (Indeed, many commentators describe the Bolivarian Revolution as a situation of 'counter revolution and radicalization,' where overzealous opposition tactics have pushed the government aligned forces leftward.

This has not, however, translated into something of a purge of these elements. Rather, the leftward shift has taken the form of ramping up the process of creating socialism for the 21st century. (Much to the chagrin of the most radical elements of Chavismo, who often remark that the deepest weakness of the revolution is its tolerance of an intolerant and foreign-backed opposition).

On the 13th, the poor of Caracas, along with a regiment of paratroopers who had refused to follow the orders of the mutinous high command, swarmed the city center and demanded the return of Chávez. The coalition behind the coup disintegrated as the business elites at its head overplayed their hands and alienated the military support they so desperately needed. In the end, they slinked away to the city's eastern districts or Miami, decrying the 'dictatorship' to this day.

Since then, the opposition's flimsy justifications have been thoroughly debunked and recognized as fraudulent by all but the Bush administration and the oppos in Venezuela. The explosion of popular power that was the 13th has since defined the imaginary of the Bolivarian Revolution. (Indeed, the revolution's official historiography is one marked by such eruptions: 1989's Caracazo, the 2002 countercoup, the rolling back of the 2003 lockout).

I would tentatively suggest on this anniversary that the revolt of the 13th undermines any 'hard' rendering of the 'counter-revolution and revolt' thesis. While the opposition's political suicide put an end to Chávez's early
coalition politics, it was the force of Venezuela's poor who have pushed the government down the revolutionary road. The government needs to keep this in mind, always. always. always.
If you have an hour and a half, this is an incredible documentary (in english) on the 2002 coup, the role of the media, and the insurrection that brought Chávez back to power.

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