Chavismo and the parliament: killing the tiger but fearing its fur

By Simon Rodriguez
Photo credit: Andrea Hernandez (AP)

Russian government spokespersons had already predicted, speaking to Bloomberg, that Guaido would not be re-elected as president of the National Assembly (AN) on January 5th. So the military siege of the Legislative Palace and the election of deputy Luis Parra as president of the parliament without the statutory quorum were scenes from a script previously announced. The bourgeois opposition had also prepared in advance its own event at the headquarters of the private newspaper El Nacional, where it assures that a majority of one hundred deputies approved the re-election of Guaido.

Both Guaido and Parra are claiming for themselves the legitimate presidency of a parliament devoid of all power, in a year in which the government hopes to hold a new parliamentary election under severe anti-democratic restrictions, such as the electoral proscription of most opposition parties and leaders, from both the right and left.

That chavismo has imposed the “self-proclamation” of its own “opposition” deputy to preside the AN, a member of the Comptroller’s Commission pointed out for his corrupt links with the government, coming from the center-right Primero Justicia party, with the votes of other co-opted “opponents” and the minority PSUV, is one more episode that illustrates what the civic-military regime is all about. Since 2015 there has been a permanent suspension of constitutional guarantees. Since 2016, parliamentary powers, such as the approval of the national budget or the possibility of writing new laws, have been annulled, and even before that, parliamentary immunity had been revoked. Since 2017, there is a plenipotentiary body of indefinite duration composed by 100% official members, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), fraudulently elected through a system of corporative representation. The Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) also usurps parliamentary functions. Military justice is applied to civilians for protesting or stealing food, and police forces carry out dozens of extrajudicial executions every week in popular barrios. This has been the situation for several years.

Chavismo now stages the confrontation as one in which two sectors of the opposition clash for control of the AN, although openly supporting “the new opposition directive of the National Assembly”, still formally declared “in disobedience” by the TSJ. Meanwhile Guaido alleges that there was a “failed parliamentary coup” against his “interim government”. These are violently dissociated speeches that try to maintain appearances. Each in its own way underscores the weakness of Maduro’s Bonapartism, which has de facto dissolved parliament years ago but does not dare to do so formally. Even its military encirclement of the AN was surpassed by the opposition deputies, two days after Parra was appointed “president”. As the popular saying goes, chavismo kills the tiger but fears its fur.

There is another reason for Guaido to try to present the manoeuvre with the co-opted deputies as a breaking point, besides insisting on affirming the fiction of the interim government, a proxy of the Trump government. Guaido needs to hide the fact that since the declaration of “disobedience” and the de facto annulment of the majority opposition parliament in 2016, this bourgeois opposition has capitulated time and again to the chavista coup. Already in December 2015, it had accepted the appointment of new members of the TSJ by the outgoing and delegitimised National Assembly, and then accepted the dismissal (using a figure that does not exist in the law) of three Amazonas deputies questioned by the government under absurd arguments, to avoid a declaration of contempt that was sanctioned anyway. The bourgeois opposition accepted the blocking of the recall referendum in 2016, and at the end of that year issued a shameful joint statement with the government, the fruit of the infamous “dialogue process”, recognising the alleged “economic war” with which the government masked its austerity plans, years before there were economic sanctions. That same capitalist opposition recognised the regional elections called by the fraudulent ANC in 2017, participated in them and most of the opposition governors were sworn in before the ANC. They did their best to demobilise the 2017 popular rebellion, even accusing the most radicalised protesters of being chavista agents, for example, in the face of food looting. Tested by an extreme situation, the opposition leaders preferred to keep the government on its feet rather than let it be fall to a mass mobilisation. This was both in their class interests and in accordance with the orientation of the US government, whose policy so far has been to apply pressure for a negotiated way out.

The existence of corrupt sectors such as the one represented by Luis Parra and other members of the Comptroller’s Commission, a body that in four years did not carry out any major investigation into chavista corruption, isn’t new either. No one in the MUD-FAVL was ever vetoed for being corrupt or doing business with the government. Even the corrupt members of chavismo, such as Ismael Garcia or Henri Falcon, were recycled. As demonstrated by recent corruption scandals in the management of humanitarian aid funds or in the appointment of an ‘interim attorney’ linked to a private lawsuit against the state owned Citgo, conflicts between bourgeois opposition tendencies directly reflect disputes over business quotas. A US embassy cable published by Wikileaks more than a decade ago reported that leaders of all the right wing opposition parties walked around the embassy asking for funding, and if one official responded negatively, they turned to another one. It is not just “the CLAP faction”; there are deputies who, like Parra, lobbied at the service of chavista businessmen, popularly known as boliburgueses, in exchange for contracts with the government’s food distribution network. The links of leaders like Ramos Allup with the Bolichicos, a business group known for its corruption in the electric sector, for example, are also publicly known.

Supporters of those opposition sectors often complain that the working class is supposedly conformist and doesn’t fight. They argue for passivity and relying on foreign economic, diplomatic and military intervention. However, there have been thousands of workers’ protests in recent years. Last year saw a significant increase in strikes and actions by workers. It is the absence of an alternative political leadership, such as the one the left opposition is trying to build, the main reason why a government hated by around 90% of the population is still in place, in the midst of an economic and social debacle imposed by the chavista regime and aggravated by imperialist sanctions that is not even beginning to be overcome.

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