Since the failure of the reactionary coup of 11-13 April and the return to power of President Hugo Chávez, it has become apparent that there are still serious tensions in Venezuela. The right-wing opposition which backed the coup continues to show vigorous hostility to Chávez and to call for a referendum or early elections to force him out of office, and the US continues to push for a neo-liberal reorientation of Venezuelan policy; but the popular base of support for ‘chavismo’, organised in the Círculos Bolivarianos, is pressing for a radicalisation of the revolutionary process and warning of the danger of a new coup attempt.
Immediately after his return Chávez called for reconciliation and dialogue, but the reaction of the right-wing parties, the media and business circles was not encouraging. Although the government has shown commendable respect for constitutional and judicial norms in its investigation of the coup, the conspirators have shown no signs of repentance, and the US State Department recently had the effrontery to ask the Venezuelan government not to issue suggestions that the US may have been involved in the coup, since this "could raise the level of resentment against the US, or anti-Americanism" in the country, which would "not be in the interest" of either country. As if the real cause of growing anti-Americanism in Venezuela was not the fact of blatant US interference and hostility to the country’s legitimate government!
The politico-military situation remains complex: Pedro Carmona, the businessman who led the spurious 48-hour regime, was under house arrest and subject to trial, but on 23 May he took refuge in the Colombian ambassador’s house, and six days later he was in Bogotá, probably en route to the US. At the same time it was said that over 600 officers were also subject to trial for involvement in the coup, and since new military promotions have to be ratified by Congress on 5 July, Chávez has proposed many promotions but has had to include many Colonels or lower-rank officers, which has not gone down well in the military. Recent weeks have seen growing tensions, with recently retired officers planning to demonstrate in military uniform on 20 June in solidarity with those remanded in custody, and the government declaring this to be illegal. Right-wing civilian groups have also been demonstrating and demanding an anti-Chávez referendum.
Although many on the left fear that Chávez’ conciliatory gestures are a sign of weakness, his political astuteness should not be underestimated. The US, in keeping with the blatant hypocrisy of its support for the "democratic" coup, would dearly love to find an excuse to invoke the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela, but Chávez’ strict respect for constitutional norms has made this almost impossible. Thus on Sunday June 2nd, just before a crucial OAS meeting in Barbados, Chávez announced that he had invited the US Congressional Black Caucus to act as observers and mediators in his attempt to foster a national dialogue (the black members of Congress had written to him expressing their support and condemning the coup). In terms of international solidarity, the revolutionary government has also received visits by the French rural activist José Bové, who expressed his support for the land reform struggle, and by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo headed by Hebe de Bonafini.
In a move which many will find perplexing, Chávez recently (in the first week of June) gave a cordial reception to an official of the World Bank, who came away hypocritically praising the Venezuelan leader’s efforts to promote social justice and reduce poverty while maintaining fiscal discipline. But Venezuela has not accepted World Bank or IMF diktats – it is preserving financial stability on its own terms, knowing that an Argentinian-type collapse would be catastrophic for the progress of the Bolivarian Revolution. This is not Cuba in 1960 – there is no Soviet Union to bail Chávez out if he burns his boats. In fact, Venezuela is more like the Cuba of today, striving to defend a progressive social policy while recognising the need to participate in a hostile world market (with the difference that in Venezuela the revolution has just begun, unlike Cuba which is defending a 40-year-old revolution under siege).
In this situation, popular mobilisation and military support are crucial, and it is clear that Chávez and his supporters are well aware of this. The círculos bolivarianos continue to grow, and in a recent article the President’s brother, Adán Chávez, called for urgent theoretical debate in order to "advance towards the formation of the Party of the Bolivarian Revolution, a party which in addition to having a solid electoral apparatus must become the organic and political force of this new period" and which must overcome narrow group interests to achieve the "consolidation of the Bolivarian Revolution".
This concept of a vanguard party operating in a radically democratic and pluralist system is certainly original, and confirms the international significance of the Venezuelan process. As for Venezuelan relations with Colombia, following the Colombian establishment’s support for the coup and the election of Uribe Vélez, they could hardly be worse. If Uribe hopes to solve matters by force and repression, he cannot count on Venezuelan support.