Venezuela: revolution in the revolution?

Hundreds of representatives of Venezuela’s grassroots social movements met in the Southern Caracas barrio of El Valle this weekend, to hash out plans for the formation of the Revolutionary Grassroots Front of the South [Frente Popular Revolucionario del Sur]—a new united movement through which they hope to combat the growing bureaucracy within the Chavez government, and to push their own grassroots agenda.

Spokespersons from ANMCLA (National Association of Free and Alternative Community Media), FNCEZ (Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front), Cultural Centers, and numerous community organizations and movements met and debated in nearly two dozen working groups all weekend long.

Among the proposals discussed were the creation of a grassroots government council, a grassroots legislative parliament, the formation of a new grassroots generated Constitutional reform, and a coordinated direct action plan, all independent of the Venezuelan government.

“This national grassroots meeting has fulfilled our expectations because we’ve been able to bring together almost all of the grassroots organizations in all of Caracas and some other states that could come,” said Zaida Mujica, a member of La Pastora Cultural Center, who helped to organize the event. “This isn’t going to stop here, this same initiative is going to be carried out in the communities with the intention that each community has it’s own struggle manifesto, and what is really going to strengthen this revolution, this process is truly popular power, and continue to recuperate these values that popular power is not decreed, it cannot be driven by the institutions. Popular power is the people themselves.”

The pro-Chavez Front of the South is a reflection of the struggle between government reformists and grassroots Chavez supporters that has been emerging since Chavez was reelected in December 2006. Over the last month and a half, these contradictions have increased further, as many in Chavez’s popular base blame the reformists for the defeat of last December’s Constitutional referendum,

“That’s why a sector within this very process voted against the reform, because they don’t want this process to go any further. They don’t want, and they’re not interested in popular power, and they are people within this very Bolivarian process,” said Father Edmundo Cadenas last week, a radical Catholic Priest in Bocono, a small mountain town in the Andean state of Trujillo.

December’s Constitutional Reform would have eliminated Presidential term limits, while passing more power both up to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and down to Venezuela’s communal councils and grassroots base. The Reform’s supporters cite multiple reasons for the measure’s defeat, including the complexity of its nearly 70 articles. They also point to an intense anti-reform media campaign, which told Venezuelans that if the referendum passed, Venezuelan children would become property of the state.

Many members of the social movements present this weekend, however, had an even deeper analysis of the reform defeat.

“The first cause is the internal contradiction in the revolution which is present. There is a reformist sector that has been working internally to construct a force to build a counterweight to the revolutionary sector that is in the government,” said Orlando Zambrano, leader of the FNCEZ, on Saturday. “The 2nd cause is the level of organization and the consciousness of the people which didn’t permit that the people understood the strategic necessity that was proposed in the reform and the historic possibility to accelerate the revolutionary process here in Venezuela.”

But in the opposition-stronghold Eastern suburbs of Caracas, residents say that the reform is proof that Chavez’s process is losing steam.

“Why didn’t Chavez win? Because the people are tired of so much garbage,” said America Rodriguez on Sunday at the Unicentro El Marques Shopping Center in Caracas. “The people are tired of so much garbage because every time Chavez goes on a trip it’s to embarrass us, the Venezuelans… and this is the first defeat of many.”

With the wide range of reflections across the country, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced earlier this month that he would be slowing down slightly his revolutionary process and that this would be the year of the three R’s: “review, rectification, and re-advance.”

The social movements at this weekend’s meetings appear to be doing just the opposite. Yesterday they agreed to transform the event in to a permanent assembly and began plans for a nationwide march in late February, in support of Socialism and the grassroots agenda.

“When the revolution arrived, the people demobilized because the people went after this other project and other processes and we abandoned the street,” said longtime community media artist, Ivan Muñoz at this weekend’s event. “Now we are in a juncture where we have to retake the form of organization and the form of struggle that we had before… because we didn’t realize that the bureaucracy isolated us from this reality and this deterioration in which we are living.”

Michael Fox for VenezuelAnalysis, via Upside Down World, Jan. 22

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