Venezuelan government launches economic campaign

Ernesto Villegas in campaign rally, Dec. 1
Photo: Villegas campaign

As the Dec. 8 mayoral elections approach, Venezuela’s revolutionary government is employing extraordinary measures to curb sabotage, price-gouging and massive hoarding of food and other essentials by giant conglomerates.

Beginning with revolutionary leader Hugo Chávez’s first election as president in 1998, the Bolivarian Revolutionary process has undergone 18 national elections, with economic and social gains for the people advancing each time.

But the right-wing opposition, backed by U.S. imperialism, has tried to sabotage those elections by creating economic chaos and consumer panic.

The capitalists foment economic dislocation in an attempt to adversely affect the elections.

One tactic is the systematic hoarding of everyday essentials, from food, soap and toilet paper, to construction materials and appliances. The most extreme example of sabotage was the highly destructive oil-industry shutdown, from October 2002 to February 2003, which caused widespread hardship.

The Venezuelan capitalist class, in its constant search for higher profits, is notorious for raising prices of consumer goods sky-high and for raking in hard currency through illegal means. That capital is then exported by the super-rich in the phenomenon of “capital flight.” This practice bleeds the country of needed reserves and contributes to inflation.

Ultimately, the aim of the Venezuelan elite and U.S. imperialism is the overthrow of the revolutionary process. Assassination plots, violent attacks and U.S. funding of the opposition have also increased since the death of Hugo Chávez on March 5 of this year.

Government counter-offensive

In recent weeks, President Nicolás Maduro and other leaders have launched a major offensive against what they term the opposition’s “economic war.” The people and their community organizations are mobilizing to defend the offensive measures and their revolution.

These are not just emergency measures to assure sufficient supplies to the population, but steps towards more permanent economic change, toward the stated goal of a socialist revolution.

On Nov. 19, President Nicolás Maduro requested and won new executive powers by National Assembly approval, through the means of an “Enabling Law.”

With a one-year limit in effect, Maduro can take now executive action on matters normally the domain of the National Assembly, and pass laws. According to the Constitution, the Assembly can delegate its powers to the president by a 60 percent vote. The Nov. 19 vote was 99 members in favor, 60 opposed and two abstentions.

Two days later, Maduro decreed two new laws. The first is the Law for the Control of Costs, Prices and Profits. Consumer prices are being lowered and prices and profits greatly restricted. Commercial rental rates that landlords can charge to small businesses will be restricted to no more than 250 bolívares per square meter and new auto prices will be regulated.

The second law was the establishment of the National Center of Foreign Trade and the Foreign Trade Corporation of Venezuela. These entities will control non-oil imports and exports, to assure that the needs of the population are met by an organized and regulated foreign commerce.

Among the corporate abuses the law will curb is massive speculation by the importing corporations. In order to import goods from abroad, corporations operating in Venezuela must apply for U.S. dollars from the government.

Profits will be limited to no more than 30 percent over cost. Up to now, many importers have hiked up prices as high as 1,000 percent to the consumer. Previously, hundreds of fake corporations had been set up to obtain dollars, which were then sent abroad illegally.

Now, with the new law, all companies wishing to import or export must register with the foreign trade corporation, and be subject to price controls.

More than 8,300 committees headed by women, called “Madres del Barrio” (neighborhood mothers), are working hard to defend the economy and to be the eyes and ears of the community. They are called on to monitor the economic activity in their communities, and report on illegalities. During the debates leading up to the Enabling Law, the masses turned out by the thousands in front of the National Assembly building to demand the new powers for Maduro.

Government institutions are leading the way, and the pro-government media explains the counter-offensive and call to action.

People’s defender targeted for attack

Eduardo Samán, longtime revolutionary, is a popular figure among the masses.

As president of the Indepabis institute — Institute in Defense of the Peoples’ Access to Goods and Services — he is greatly respected as an ardent defender of the people against corporate exploitation.

He has led an aggressive campaign against corporate gouging and mobilized a workers’ control of La Gaviota sardine-production plant in 2010, among other actions. He is hands-on, activating communities directly through the media, exposing the corporations and calling on people to investigate and blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

On Oct. 2, as he drove from the Indepabis office in his armored vehicle, three gunmen with semi-automatic weapons and grenades shot directly into his driver’s window. The armored glass deflected the bullets and he escaped. The gunmen were killed by his bodyguard.

The assassination attempt on Samán shows how far the right wing will go to defend its system and profits, and why more resolute action is needed.

Critical elections on December 8

Across Venezuela, elections for mayors, municipal councils and indigenous councils will take place next Sunday, Dec. 8.

Up for election are the posts for 335 mayors, 2,435 municipal councilors, 69 indigenous representatives, two metropolitan mayors, and 20 district councils. Currently, the right wing controls 56 of those mayor positions.

In the pro-Revolution campaign, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) collaborated with the Great Patriotic Pole — a coalition of pro-Chávez parties, including the PSUV — to select the mayoral candidates internally, rather than rely on primary elections. As a result, 20 percent of the unity slate includes mayoral candidates who are not PSUV members.

One of the most important elections is in Caracas, for the office of mayor of the Metropolitan District, which oversees the five municipalities of the capital.

Running for principal Caracas mayor as a PSUV candidate is longtime journalist and former Communications Minister under President Maduro, Ernesto Villegas. He is running against opposition incumbent Antonio Ledezma.


Reprinted from Liberation News, edited for length

Below is an interview with Freddy Bernal, the former mayor of Caracas

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