Chavismo Reacts to Electoral Defeat

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

Government and pro-government forces have been reacting to Sunday’s adverse elections results. Comments have ranged from the self-critical to the blaming of an “economic war” waged by the opposition.

The first reaction came from President Maduro himself. Right after the electoral authority’s announcement that the opposition had secured at least 99 elected deputies, Maduro appeared on television from the Miraflores palace recognizing defeat. He refrained however from directly congratulating the winners and instead accused his opponents of stepping up the “economic war” against the country in the weeks before the election. He also called for a “rebirth” of the Revolution and told his followers they needed to “go from the current state of difficulties caused by the economic war, to a renovation of hope.”

On Monday, the president met with his cabinet and said that the government was declaring itself in a state of “permanent dialogue with the people, with criticism and self-criticism and constructive action.” But he also suggested that the Revolution should go into a defensive/offensive phase. The defense should be for the safeguarding the social accomplishments of the Revolution against the attacks form the right. He explained, “they feel they have power and are already showing their fangs and threatening to persecute the people. The bourgeoisie is coming to impose a neo-liberal restoration.”  The offensive phase, on the other hand, should aim at the final defeat of the “economic war promoted by rightist sectors seeking to generate chaos and destabilization.”

In his televised address on Tuesday night, Maduro said he would block any amnesty law for political prisoners coming from the new parliament. He also asked for the resignation of all his cabinet ministers, as he announced the government will be going into a deep “restructuring.”  

Other government officials also reacted to the results. The PSUV governor of Falcón State, Stella Lugo, declared on Monday that “the government is going into a full state of revision.” She said however, that the revision should focus not in the government itself, but on how it had failed to clearly explain the effects of the economic war and who was behind it: “The opposition won those spaces because of the economic crisis. But we failed to explain to our people that the crisis had been planned by the right-wing. The people yesterday drained in the ballots their discontent as a result of the economic crisis.”

The head of the PSUV’s electoral campaign, Jorge Rodríguez, also accepted defeat in a press conference on Monday. He asked for an internal revision of the government, but also blamed the defeat on what he called an “atypical campaign.” “While we were in the street with ideas and proposals, the opposition side didn’t even put any candidates in the field. Instead they waged an economic and psychological war. As president Maduro said yesterday, the right-wing didn’t win; the economic and psychological war and all aggressions suffered by the Venezuelan people won the elections.” Rodríguez also turned to the accusation made in the past by the opposition against Chavismo and told the “right” not to take this electoral win as a blank check. “If the opposition uses this electoral result as an instrument to attack the institution, well, it will have to face us,” he warned.

The international campaign coordinator of the pro-government coalition, Roy Chaderton, said in a press conference in Caracas that the defeat could be explained because “a part of our people, seriously disgruntled by the sufferings progressively caused by the economic war waged by rightist sectors, succumbed to the promises of a false change, which is really a step backwards.”

One of the reelected Chavista deputies, Earle Herrera, said that the results were “an incentive to consolidate and defend the achievements of the first 17 years of the Bolivarian Revolution.” He also said that his reelection had not been an essay task because “the Venezuelan people have been the victims of sabotages of the oil industry, guarimbas, economic war, kidnaping attempts, and many more destabilization plots, which we have been fighting against alongside the people.”

The current president of the National Assembly and PSUV leader Diosdado Cabello said that the results were only a slight misstep for the revolution. But he also sent a message to those Chavistas who had switch political loyalties and voted for the opposition: “if you claim to be a Chavista, but you voted for the opposition, the facts will prove you wrong.” On Tuesday Cabello declared that the current AN will speed through the appointment of 12 judges of the Supreme Justice Tribunal, before the new opposition dominated assembly takes over in January 2016.

Independent Chavismo also quickly reacted to the elections results. The popular web forum Aporrea.org, carried many articles which backed the government’s line of blaming the economic war for the defeat (read examples here and here). Some also blamed a lack of patriotism and loyalty by the people, asking the Lord to forgive the traitors, or claiming that the “the bonds of servitude are still stronger that those of patriotism.”

Many more pieces however expressed doubts about the government’s explanations of an economic war as the main culprit for the defeat and instead squarely blamed corruption and incompetence within the government (read examples here and here.)

The need for self-criticism and doubts about the conspiratorial explanations given by the government were the main points of several reactions from the independent left. Franklin González, a well-known social sciences professor of the Universidad Central de Venezuela and former ambassador to Poland, Uruguay, and Greece during the Chávez administration, wrote in a piece for Aporrea that the government needed to learn from the defeat and deal with the everyday problems of the people instead of blaming everything on a conspiracy. “If a person phones a government bank and spends an infinite time on hold, without ever reaching anyone to answer, this has little to do with imperialism and the CIA.”

Nicmer Evans, leader of the independent Chavista party Marea Socialista, said that the government should fully face its responsibility for the results. “I have heard some government officials blaming the people; instead I think the government has no one to blame but itself. To say that the economic war is completely responsible for this is quite frankly to be totally disconnected from reality.”