January 10th is the date on which Hugo Chavez has to be sworn into office as the re-elected President of Venezuela. However, as the day draws nearer, complications in his recovery from surgery in Cuba make this unlikely. Since the beginning of the year, and even before, the Venezuelan right wing opposition has unleashed a vicious and disgusting campaign of rumours and lies about President Chavez’s real condition with the aim of removing him from office.
The Spanish newspaper ABC has played a particularly prominent role in this campaign, announcing in front page headlines that Chavez was in an “induced comma” and his days were numbered. According to this papers’ unnamed “intelligence sources” he would soon be disconnected from a life support machine. This was combined with a barrage of propaganda and lies on social media networks, in a campaign organised directly by prominent members of the so-called “democratic opposition”.
The aim of this campaign is to achieve what the oligarchy could not get through the ballot box (nor through previous coups, conspiracies, lockouts, etc): the end of Chavez’s presidency which would deal a serious blow to the Bolivarian revolution.
The hypocrisy of these “democratic” ladies and gentlemen knows no limits. They now insist that the Constitution must be respected and that if Chavez is unable to be sworn in on January 10, then he is no longer President and new elections are automatically triggered. These are the same people who first opposed the Bolivarian Constitution in 1999, mobilised against it, burnt copies of it on their demonstrations, and then, at the first opportunity they had, during the short-lived coup in April 2002, abolished it. Now their only concern is that the Bolivarian Constitution be respected. They are joined in this chorus of hyenas by the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference – which also played a key role in supporting the April 2002 coup.
Even from a narrow constitutional point of view, they are wrong. The Constitution clearly says (Art. 231) that if the President is unable to take an oath on January 10th at the National Assembly, he can do so in front of the Supreme Court of Justice (with no date specified). From a legal point of view, President Chavez requested permission from the National Assembly to leave the country to undergo surgical treatment in Cuba in December, which was granted.
This is precisely the Constitutional mechanism which was activated yesterday, January 8, when Vice President Maduro informed the National Assembly that president Chávez was unable (on medical instructions) to be sworn in on January 10th and asked for the legislative body to refer the matter to the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ).
Only in the case of an “absolute absence of the president” (Art. 233), new elections would have to be called within 30 days. Absolute absence of the president would be in cases of death, resignation or “permanent mental or physical incapacity” certified as such by a medical team appointed by the Supreme Court and ratified by the National Assembly.
Clearly, none of these cases yet apply.
This, of course, will not stop the opposition in its vociferous campaign. Opposition leaders have declared that they have the “right to know” what is the “real state of health” of the President and have organised a commission of “men of proven reputation” to go to Cuba to investigate directly. They also said they would make an appeal to the “international community” (What they mean is Imperialism). All of those they have appointed to this commission were directly involved in the April 2002 coup and where they really belong is in jail.
The same capitalists, landlords, media owners and cardinals who organised the undemocratic coup which removed the democratically elected President from office in 2002, are now raising a hue and cry about a “coup” organised by the Bolivarian leaders. They insist that unless Chavez is sworn in on January 10, then he is no longer President.
In reality, leaving to one side the constitutional details (a field in which they have no moral standing and in which they are wrong in any case), the central fact they want people to forget is this: President Chávez was re-elected on October 7th, when he received 8.1 million votes (55%) on an astonishingly high 80% turnout. The opposition was soundly defeated and the people voted once again to ratify the project of the Bolivarian revolution, led by Chávez. The oligarchy now wants to undo their defeat at the polls, revealing, once again, their true undemocratic character.
Just in case anyone thinks that the opposition leaders are really concerned about constitutional rights, their campaign has been accompanied by calls for a “national civilian strike” (ie. a bosses’ lock-out like that of December 2002 – January 2003) and a systematic campaign of hoarding of and speculation with basic food products.
This despicable campaign has now turned the mood amongst the revolutionary masses from one of worry, sorrow and praying for the recovery of Chavez, which dominated over Christmas and the New Year, to one of anger and militancy. Once again, the whip of the counter-revolution has spurred the revolution forward.
On January 5th, the day on which the National Assembly elected its presidency, thousands of workers and poor gathered in the centre of Caracas to show their support for Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution. That mobilisation came from below and it was initially called for by rank and file revolutionary activists. Representatives of the militias were also present.
On the day, both the vice-president Maduro and the president of the National Assembly Cabello made radical speeches and issued stern warnings to the opposition. To the assembled masses Diosdado Cabello declared: “with sadness but firmly we tell you, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, don’t make a mistake. You would pay dearly” and vice president Maduro added: “there is only one transition here, from capitalism to socialism, with President Chavez at the head, elected, re-elected and ratified”.
There was even a clear statement to the effect that the rank and file was going to be consulted in the selection of candidates for the forthcoming municipal elections. This is significant as the appointment of candidates from above was a major source of criticism from the revolutionary rank and file during the December regional elections.
In the following days different official bodies, partly relying on intelligence supplied by revolutionary organizations on the ground, carried out a series of operations against hoarding and speculation, which Maduro warned would be dealt with by “an iron fist”.