Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reflecting on the Reform Vote

Friday, November 30, the Avenida Bolivar

It was late in the afternoon, the sun was about to set, and President Chavez was addressing the huge crowd that stretched up the Avenida Bolivar in Caracas. I had just waded through this sea of red, pushing through the tightly packed, happy crowd that extended down side streets and into neighboring parks. It was estimated that at least 500,000 people showed up, including 15 of us from Monte Carmelo and about 50 other people from nearby Sanare. We had left the State of Lara on two buses at 10 p.m. the previous night and arrived in Caracas early Friday morning. The fiesta atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the huge crowd made us think that the constitutional reforms would surely be passed in the election on December 2nd.

Even the dogs were reds, and they were celebrating.

Why is there no photo here showing that the Avenida Bolivar was also filled with people on the previous day, November 29?

Because we weren’t there and the government was trying to ignore the protest. The political opposition was able to assemble a very large crowd in the same place the Chavez supporters would be the next day. They did not bring out 500,000, but quite possibly 200,000 or more, an impressive number for an opposition that had been divided and ineffectual for a long time.

Shortly before I took my photo on November 30 of the pro-Chavez, pro-reform gathering, I bumped into a friend in the crowd who happens to live in an apartment high above the Avenida Bolivar. He told me that from his vantage point he could see that the opposition had filled the avenue the previous day. He wasn’t pleased to see the sizable crowd, since he has worked very hard for several years on behalf of the Bolivarian Revolution. But he also wasn’t happy that the Venezuelan government television stations chose not to show the kinds of expansive panoramic views that would reveal the size of the march marshalled by their opponents.

On the other hand, long-range photos of the opposition march were given a prominent place in The New York Times and other media sources outside and inside of Venezuela, since they regularly play up events critical of Chavez and tend to ignore the Bolivarian Process itself. But this doesn’t mean that the government television and news outlets should do the same thing on behalf of their side. I’m not suggesting that neutral coverage was possible, but I think the Venezuelan people, and especially those who supported the constitutional reforms, needed to know more about the depth and strength of the opposition forces.

Possibly, if the Chavistas were armed with this information, they would have been able to prevail upon their neighbors - especially Chavez supporters in the barrios who abstained from voting in large numbers - to vote “Si” at the polls. Furthermore, the incident illuminates the need for more criticism within the Chavista movement, whose ‘to the barricades’ attitude about the revolutionary process often keeps them from engaging in a thorough evaluation of where they are going.

While this embattled attitude is understandable, given the constant barrages of vitriol and misinformation coming from the private media outlets and the United States State Department, it is not helping the political process to mature. (See a very informative Spanish video about how foreign right-wing sources have been helping to manufacture the Venezuelan ´student movement´ at Chris Carlson´s Gringo in Venezuela website.)

Critical Support is Necessary
Within any political structure, it seems nearly inevitable that those who feel they have an overwhelming numerical advantage will try to use it to solidify their position and advance their goals quickly. Clearly, the Chavez government felt that, with an electoral victory of almost 2 to 1 in late 2006, it had sufficient power in 2007 to enact the Constitutional reforms necessary for proceeding toward socialism.

If the government had been correct in thinking that a 2 to 1 margin of victory was possible in December of 2007, then we would not be questioning its judgment – we who generally support the Bolivarian Process would still be celebrating in the streets and anticipating the first steps of putting the reforms into practice.

But given that the government lost a close 50/50 vote, and did not get the support of 3 million people who voted for Chavez a year earlier, it’s only right that people question the content of the reforms and the way they were presented to the Venezuelan people.

Wider discussion of the reforms and other issues
In our little corner of Venezuela, Monte Carmelo, 303 campesinos voted in the election on December 2, more or less the same number that had voted in December of 2006. This meant that abstentions were not a factor here, as 255 voted for the reforms and 46 against. Nine more people voted against Chavez in this election, not a very large defection to the opposition.

Local voters are not ignorant or uninformed people, for they had engaged in spirited discussion of the reforms, grumbled about too much complexity and vague language, and then continued their tradition of supporting Chavez. But in a discussion with various neighbors last night, I found that they were ready to press ahead and try to pass some version of the constitutional reforms sometime during the remaining five years of Chavez’s term. This time it will be an effort that begins at the grassroots, gets discussed at length, and is brought to a national vote by means of a petition signed by 15% of the voters nationwide.

Some people in Monte Carmelo think that all the reforms are useful, but that some of them ought to be simplified as part of new education campaign that will reach the 20% of voters who voted in 2006 but abstained this time. Others expressed the opinion that no more than twenty or thirty reforms, rather than sixty nine, should be presented. According to one person it was important to select only the constitutional articles that are key to restructuring the government for a democratic socialist future. Another had a more gradualist view, thinking that the number should be limited to those that would pass easily now, while waiting a few years to push the more controversial articles.

Who knows? Maybe the people of Monte Carmelo will produce their own list of reformed reforms.

Feliz Navidad!

Maybe you have forgotten to get a really good book for someone for Christmas. If you and your loved ones want to know something about Venezuela, you should read two books that were published this year. One, Cowboy in Caracas, is a short and very accessible book about everyday life in Venezuela written by our friend Charlie Hardy. Charlie came here from Wyoming twenty years ago as a Maryknoll priest and spent nearly ten years living in a cardboard shack alongside some of the poorest people in the city. Although no longer a priest, he is still in Caracas and still on the side of the poor. In his own special, good-humored way, Charlie lets you know why the majority of Venezuelans have chosen to support Chavez and the revolutionary process.

Then there’s Hugo!, seen here sitting in front of our house

Hugo is an excellent biography written by Bart Jones, who spent 8 years in Venezuela, most of the time as an Associated Press reporter. In September, the week after the book was published in the United States, I was the one designated to deliver the three hot-off-the-press copies to three of Bart’s closest friends in Venezuela. Of course, I made sure I read the book completely before giving up the last copy. I’ve been meaning to write a full book review ever since, because this is by far the most comprehensive and informative biography of President Chavez that I have found in either English or Spanish. (There are some opposition versions that are full of invective and misinformation, while a couple of fairly accurate books in Spanish suffer from a bit too much adulation.) Jones´s book is long, at over six hundred pages, every one of which is necessary to give the non-Venezuelan the historical background needed to understand both the Chavez phenomenon and the necessity of revolutionary change. Since Bart writes succinctly and gracefully, you should not find it difficult to keep turning the pages.

And don’t forget to keep checking online articles at Venezuela Analysis (http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/), the only comprehensive website in English that covers politics and social change in Venezuela. Greg Wilpert, who founded the website some years ago, also has a new book about the Bolivarian Process that is bound to enlighten you.

Counter-revolutionary students get attention from the global media,

but revolutionary changes are taking place at Mission Sucre, a different kind of higher education

In the third week of October, there was another protest against the Chavez government in Caracas by thousands of students who were opposed to the proposed Constitutional reforms that were voted on last week.

In spite of the fact that these protests were often led by young people with ties to extreme right-wing parties, which in turn have direct ties to the U.S. Embassy and the opposition media empires, most of these students were sincerely expressing their desire to stop the Bolivarian Process. And their free speech was being protected. In fact, at one of the protests that week, when some pro-Chavez supporters gathered opposite the anti-Chavez demonstrators, the two groups started throwing stones and bottles at each other. Metropolitan Police of Caracas took measures to shut down the counter-protest even though those demonstrators were voicing support for the government.

Still, those outside of Venezuela should be aware that the anti-Chavez, anti-reform movement did not involve a majority of university-level students. Numbers and percentages are hard to estimate, but it would be surprising if more than a third of all people taking advantage of higher education (the total is somewhere between 1,200,000 and 1,400,000) were campaigning and voting against the referendum. Of those 1,200,000 plus students, about half (more than 600,000 students) are studying in conventional universities. Most go to elite public universities that mostly serve the middle and upper classes, and about 170,000 go to expensive private schools that are home to many of the most conservative protesters.

But this is only part of the equation, because just as many Venezuelans are studying outside of the conventional universities in the Mission Sucre program. This allows them to work toward university degrees by attending classes at night or on weekends in whatever local building – grade school, high school, church or community center – has space for them and their professors. Five years ago there were no Mission Sucre students. Today they make up half of the total number of people who are advancing themselves through higher education.

This huge explosion in education is transforming Venezuelan society. The new constitutional reforms were designed to promote more participation and equality of this kind, thus lessening the advantages of those with extensive family resources.

No wonder students at the elite institutions are worried about their futures.
Will their expensive private education be sufficient for finding employment?
Will they be displaced by students whom they perceive to be less qualified?
Will they be marginalized by those who used to be socially marginalized?

Luis, Ayleen, and Cirilo in the matching shirts they bought for the public presentation of their thesis.

Mission Sucre
I first encountered Mission Sucre when I was visiting a run-down, three-story high school in the barrio of Antímano in Caracas in late 2004. At five or six in the evening, as the high school students were wandering home, the school building was filling up with people who had been laboring all day.

There is an image that still sticks in my mind: men and women were racing down to basement storerooms, grabbing dozens of huge Chinese TV sets, the kinds with 50 inch screens, and muscling them up to third floor. They wanted to make sure the video teaching materials were all in place so that their professors, most of whom were donating their time after going to their regular jobs, could start classes at the appointed hour.

This past year I learned that a large numbers of adults in our rural area of Monte Carmelo and Sanare are enrolled in classes through Mission Sucre. Among them are those who have already completed their training to be teachers and taken jobs at local schools, and others who are beginning a long and rigorous six-year program in integral community medicine physicians (see the article on Fidel’s WMDs).

The same weekend in October that privileged students were protesting in Caracas, three friends of ours, Ayleen, Luis, and Cirilo, invited me to attend the presentation of their “thesis” at La Casa de Cultura (The House of Culture) in Sanare. This was a requirement for those graduating in Social Sciences with a technical degree, which is achieved after three years of study and is similar to the associate degree earned after two years of community college in the U.S. After completing this degree, the students can continue their schooling for another two years and qualify for their “licenciado,” the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree at a U.S. university.

There were six teams that presented group projects in Social Sciences in front of a panel of academic judges in a large hall filled with over 100 members of the public. All the teams had been assigned to analyze the situation of particular barrios (neighborhoods) in Sanare or small caserios (hamlets) in the countryside, and then help these localities develop and organize communal councils. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my neighbors there. Carmen, who lives across the street from us, was part of a student team that was diagnosing problems in Monte Carmelo.

Each team had to give an oral presentation, complete with slides and maps of the communities, and a description of the methodology of their analysis and their working relationship with the communities. Then they shared their recommendations and conclusions with the audience. Some individuals in the audience were members of the communities that were studied, and they offered commentary on the value of the research done by the students.

During the presentations, which averaged about 40 minutes each, it became obvious that I was watching a new model of education. The students had been asked to engage in practical work aimed at mobilizing people for one of the most important stages of the Bolivarian Revolution, the formation of “consejos comunales” or communal councils.

In the past year, the national government has encouraged a new kind of grass-roots direct democracy that is designed to bypass old inefficiencies and corruption at the state and municipal levels and deliver control to the people themselves. Neighborhood groups of families, up to 400 families in the cities, and up to 200 families in rural areas, are authorized to form communal councils which will decide and administer local affairs. They are entitled to receive government funds directly, give out loans and grants, and embark on the projects that they feel are most important for their communities.

Tens of thousands of the communal councils are already up and running all over Venezuela. In Monte Carmelo, at a May meeting I attended, fifty-one out of 125 families in the vicinity of the village were represented. Almost everyone present engaged in a lively dialogue as they outlined tasks for the months ahead and authorized funds for rebuilding a house for an old man who had been devastated by illness.

Some communities, however, are poorly organized and apathetic, and have been slow in forming councils. For this reason, five of the student groups decided that their major research commitments would revolve around working with these communities.

Our neighbor Carmen and her group chose a different kind of project than the other groups, since they chose to work in a community, Monte Carmelo, that was already highly organized. Their challenge was to collect more information about a problem that had already been identified by activists and organic farmers: the serious medical dangers posed by the overuse of
pesticides.Our neighbor, Carmen (center), and two women from the neighboring village of Bojo presented their thesis on ecological research and education related to the use of pesticides in Monte Carmelo.

Years ago the cooperative farmers at La Alianza [see related article] noticed that they were poisoning themselves and their families and started farming organically. Some of their fellow farmers took notice and sharply diminished their pesticide use, too, but many others continued to believe that only heavy spraying would produce high yields from their cash crops. They still tramp through the fields of Monte Carmelo with spray cans strapped to their backs, and the wind scatters the residues over neighboring houses. The group’s task was multi-faceted, since it involved gathering and disseminating more medical information, as well as extensive interviewing to evaluate the opinions, awareness, and knowledge of the inhabitants.

Some of the other groups had a more elementary problem: How would they get people to attend meetings and identify local problems that they could address through a community council? Luis, Ayleen, and Cirilo went to Las Virtudes, a hamlet located more than an hour outside of Sanare. The village sits amid one of the most important coffee-growing areas in all of Venezuela, but has extremely high levels of poverty and a dearth of social services and educational facilities.
The team described the challenges involved in drawing people into meetings and promoting collective action, with special attention given to organizing energy groups (Mesas de Energia y Gas) that will ensure that everyone in the area has access to electrical energy for lights and gas (propane) for cooking. The three also told the audience about the ways they collected demographic information and historical material about Las Virtudes and then shared it with the community. In an introduction that described the spirit motivating all the Sucre teams, they wrote that they were helping the community councils because “a new era is beginning in the revolutionary process and we have to confront some great challenges.”

Now the “consejo communal” and related committees are up and running in Las Virtudes, and the people are forming cooperatives and applying for government grants and loans. Cirilo, whose regular job is working as a manager in a new coffee export company, says his Mission Sucre experience won’t be ending now that he has a technical degree. “I plan to keep studying further, but it’s even more important that we follow through on our commitment to the people of Las Virtudes. Now we have an obligation to keep working with them and their “consejo communal.”

The Bolivarian Process is urging students to share knowledge with their fellow citizens in a way that is virtually unknown at the traditional universities. Students at the elite universities are not asked to make a social commitment as part of their studies. Most likely they probably aren’t aware of the valuable work that Mission Sucre students like Ayleen, Luis, Cirilo, and Carmen are doing in their communities. This only underscores the kinds of division – by educational institution, by political persuasion, and by social class – that are causing turmoil in Venezuela today.

(Note: Minister of Finance Rodrigo Cabezas recently presented the national fiscal budget for 2008 to the Venezuelan National Assembly. He stressed that Venezuela is spending a much greater percentage of its budget on education than any other country in Latin America. For 2008, nearly 22 percent of the national budget will be directed toward primary and secondary level education, compared to 9 percent in 1998. This includes an increase in the funding of the social missions of the Chavez government, which will receive a total of Bs. 5.5 trillion (US$ 2.5 billion), an increase of nearly 62 percent from the 2007 level. These social missions include the national health program Barrio Adentro and the literacy and education programs Robinson, Rivas, Che, and Sucre, among many others. )

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

December 2nd, Election Day in Monte Carmelo

Unfortunately, horse can´t vote.

There was a cloud sitting on the mountain at 7 a.m., and the first voters made their way through the fog on foot, on motorcycles, or on horseback. One of the first in line was Diluvín, who’s the maestro of welding steel and playing the violin in Monte Carmelo, and also the man who looks after the complicated old pipeline that brings water down from the mountain forests. The neighbors say he’s a genius because he can figure out how to make anything. He was ready to cast his vote for the “Si!”

Around 10 a.m. the sun was shining brightly and people who had already voted were sitting on the wall next to the polling place which was located in the elementary school. The voters were chatting with each other and happy to share a few thoughts about the vote and the constitutional reforms. Yocelin Gonzalez said, “My opinion is that we should support the reforms because this is the way that we can assure a brighter future for our children. So I say: Si! Si! Si!”

Isidro Garcia, a retired farmer I had talked to the week before, had a message for people in the United States. “This guy Bush should not be meddling in Venezuela,” he said, “he should be helping all the poor people in his own country. Venezuelan people aren’t against the North Americans or the United States. We just want to be able to pursue our own political course.”

As Isidro was talking to me, a member of the Army Reserve came over and asked us, very politely, to move about thirty feet away from the gate to the school where people were waiting in line to vote. He didn’t want our conversation to influence people who had not voted yet. There was absolutely no election propaganda - no signs, buttons, or cards - anywhere in the village suggesting how people should vote. And the voting system is a dream: one kind of electronic voting machine is used all over the country and it is able to print out paper copies of each completed ballot (which are then deposited in boxes for recounts, if necessary). Just think, if we in the United States had had such an efficient and fraud-proof system, then Bush would not be our President.

At 11 a.m. Boni Gomez, a school administrator from Sanare and a local coordinator on behalf of the “Si!” vote, drove up the mountain in his little red car and informed us that about 35% of the electorate had already turned out to nationwide. They were hoping for at least a 50% turnout, he said. (But 50% of whom? I wondered.)

After lunch I listened to our neighbor, Abigail, who had worked as one of the local election officials for the past four elections, but was happy to be replaced by others this year. The committee had started setting up tables, etc. in the polling place at 5 a.m. and would not leave the school until after 8 p.m. She explained that “the election is very important because the reforms will provide the laws that can advance the peaceful socialist revolution that the president is leading. This is a key moment if we are going to be able to replace the strong capitalist influences that are preventing socialist measures from being implemented.

“Of course, the richest people are opposed to the reforms because their power will be limited in the future. That’s why they have frightened some of the poor people with their propaganda, saying that the government wants to seize their land. I know one man who believes that his tiny parcel of land is in danger, so now he just went and voted “No.” He did this even though he just received a low-interest loan from Fundafe, a government agency, so he could make improvements to his land.”

Around four p.m. I joined Carmen, her granddaughter Paola, and some other people who were sitting in the sun in the plaza in front of the church. “First,” said Carmen, “I want to send a greeting to the people of the United States from the people of Venezuela. Once again we’re demonstrating how to fortify the democratic process in a very civil and peaceful manner. All of our ten elections since 1998 have been very responsible and aboveboard.”

Just then, Pepi walked up, gave Carmen a big hug, and said, “We’re always voting on opposite sides but we still love each other.” “See,” replied Carmen as she turned to me, “we can live together in friendship even though some of us are with the Bolivarian Process and some are against it.”

Some of the other old-timers, like Joel, Pascual, and Miguelito, have strong loyalties to Adeco, or Acción Democratica, the old Social Democratic party that was a major force in Venezuela and local politics for many decades, but now has only a tiny following. All of them were in danger of going blind from cataracts and other eye maladies that are common here, so they were flown to Cuba by “Misión Milagro” (the Miracle Mission) for eye surgery. Now, they’re happy to have their eyesight restored, but that doesn’t mean they are about to abandon their political loyalties – there’s no way will they ever vote for Chavez.

Diluvín, who had been one of the first to vote, joined the conversation around 5 p.m. as the polls were closing because nobody was waiting in line. By 5:30 the sun was getting low in the West and the air was getting chilly, so most people retreated to the warmth of their houses, and Diluvín and I were left alone. “I wish more of the other campesinos could read better,” he confided, “then they would know how many things in this new constitution are going to benefit them. There were an awful lot of Articles to read through in the reforms. I’m afraid that some of them didn’t bother to vote.”

Monte Carmelo votes overwhelmingly for “Si!” The nation votes “No!”

As it turned out, Diluvín did not need to worry about his fellow campesinos, at least those around Monte Carmelo. By 8 p.m. we knew that three hundred and three citizens had turned out to vote and they supported the Reforms overwhelmingly, 255 to 46. In neighboring Bojó, the response was similar, 225 to 34.

But elsewhere, in other hamlets and in the poorer barrios of the town of Sanare (the county seat has about 25,000 inhabitants), there was a high degree of abstention, at least compared to the presidential election of December 2006. This time the nationwide participation rate was 56%, very high compared to off-year elections in the United States (when there is no presidential election and somewhere between 30% and 40% of the people vote), but low compared to the 75% who voted last year in Venezuela.

Around 8 p.m. we also learned that in Sanare, where about 70% of the voters chose Chavez in 2006, a majority of the voters voted narrowly for “No” on the constitutional reforms. This turned out to be a reliable indicator of national sentiment, but we had to spend hours waiting for the first bulletin of electoral results. It was clear to us the tally was going to be very close or they would have made an announcement earlier. Around 11 p.m. I said goodnight to some friends and their TV set, returned to our little house and fell asleep.

I kept sleeping, not knowing that at 1:15 a.m. they announced that the “No” vote had triumphed. According to my neighbors who stayed up, President Chavez handled the news graciously. He appeared on TV and acknowledged that the result was fair and, even though his proposed reforms had been defeated, this was the way that a democracy was supposed to function.

At 6:30 a.m. on Monday I wandered into the house next door to get our yogurt (we use their refrigerator since we don’t have one), and Abigail told me the news: “We lost. The “No” won.”

The she added, “Perdimos la batalla, pero vamos a ganar la guerra.” (‘We lost the battle, but we’re going to win the war’ – a line that would be repeated several times by the residents of Monte Carmelo on Monday.) She kept patting the arepas, the fat tortillas that she was making for breakfast, and added calmly, but with determination,“We just have to keep working and the revolution will go forward.”

I woke my son Ari up at 7, told him the bad news, and then the good news: “Abigail says its time to go to work.” Not political work, but harvesting work. From 7 to 10 we helped Abigail, Gabriel, and their family pick coffee from the trees that grow directly in front of our two houses, and then, from 10 to 12, we picked and husked corn in the large garden area on the west side of their house.
Life goes on, a campesina’s work is never done.

By afternoon the physical labor had cleared up my foggy brain cells, and I was ready to digest some numbers that were delivered by Sandino, the twenty year-old activist who lives down the road. Sandino reported that the voter turnout nationwide on Sunday had fallen by three million people compared to the number of voters who participated in the presidential election of 2006. This was, more or less, the margin of victory that Chavez had enjoyed in that election. It appeared that the referendum on the constitutional reforms had failed because so many Chavista supporters did not turn out to vote. Three million people abstained.

On Monday, the day after the election, some of the “No” supporters enjoyed a little parade around the main plaza in Sanare to celebrate their victory. Previously Sanare had given about 70% of its votes to Chavez.

How the vote went down

Although many committed Chavistas turned out to support the ¨si¨ vote in Sanare, many stayed home. Thus the opposition won in a town that voted 70% for Chavez in 2006.

The official results of the December 2nd vote on the Consitutional reforms, 50.7% “No,” 49.3% “Si.” 9 million people voted, the winning margin was 125,000 votes.

Last week I tried to give an informed, but quite speculative estimate of the percentage of Chavez supporters among the upper classes (rich and middle class) and the lower classes (poor and working class): 4% upper + 64% lower equaled a total of 68% who were supporters. As for Chavez opponents: 16% upper class + 16% lower class equaled 32% of opponents.

In a footnote, I suggested that since this was a rough estimate, and since many lower class people seem to be confused about the reforms, maybe we should consider a more conservative split. This was a good idea, and also a way of covering my ass given the over-optimistic appraisal of the pro-Chavez forces that I had offered. So now, let’s consider a 60/40 split, a nice round number that is probably more realistic.

60 % of the population is pro-Chavez, 40% is anti-Chavez, so how did the “No” vote win?

Even though Chavez won with a 63/37 majority (nearly two thirds) in 2006, a 60/40 split is very much in keeping with the average pro/anti sentiment in previous elections over the past nine years. Chavez won by three million votes in 2006 because 12 million people voted, 75% of the electorate, a much higher proportion than had ever voted before. (U.S. turnouts for presidential elections, by comparison, have been between 49% and 60% over the past few decades.)

This year because Chavez was not a candidate, and because the constitutional reforms were presented in a haphazard and confusing way (even the wording of some articles was incoherent), election turnout was much lower, 56%. (This has always been the case with referendum and off-year elections, as it is in the U.S., where 35% to 40% of the electorate turns out to vote for Congress people and Senators.) The anti-Chavez people were able to win this year because they turned out to vote at much greater rate than the pro-Chavez people.

Here is a what happened, more or less. About 45% of the Chavez supporters (60% of the population) turned out to vote, but many others did not because they were confused or weren’t sufficiently motivated, so that the reforms only got the backing of 27% of the total population. And 70% of the Chavez opponents (40% of the population) voted, because they were excited and well-organized for a change, meaning that 28% of the voting population wanted the reforms to be defeated.

Supporters 60% x 45% turnout = 27%, Opponents 40% x 70% turnout = 28%, making a total turnout of 55%.

This happens to be very close to the actual 2007 voter turnout of 55.9%, almost 20 points lower than the December 2006 voter participation rate of 75%. In the 2007 election in Venezuela, there was superior interest and commitment on the part of the upper classes, and they won. If the lower classes had participated at the same rate as in 2007, they would have had another 3 million votes. Would all of them supported the reforms? Probably not. But they still would have won handily.

Sounds like the U.S.A.

I have been arguing for years (see my books Sharing the Pie and Robbing Us Blind) that the United States continues to have such a conservative government because the Democratic Party is unwilling to build a popular base and a political program that supports the aspirations of the poor, working class, and lower middle-class people who make up the large majority of the U.S. population.

“Lower-income people, especially the third of the electorate with household incomes of under $30,000 a year, vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The upper twenty-five percent of households, who make over $70,000 a year, have always favored the Republicans. Voter turnout in presidential elections is about 35 percent of the former, versus 70 percent of the latter. If Democrats can get the lower half of the working class to register and vote, they will win handily. If they convince the upper half of the working class” [those earning between $30,000 and $70,000] “to vote for their own interests instead of the interests of the wealthy, they’ll win by an extraordinary margin.” (Robbing Us Blind, 2004, Chapter 18)

On the afternoon after the election, when I talked to Gaudy Garcia, a long-time campesina activist in Monte Carmelo, she was a bit sad and still tired. (She was one of those who had labored at the election tables for 15 hours on the previous day.) But she wasn’t about to stop working for El Proceso.

“What we’re lacking is ideological education,” Gaudy said. “Too many of the Chavistas are still unaware that there is a class war going on. If they don’t show up to fight, they’re going to lose. But don’t worry, we’ll keep fighting.”