Nigerians older than, say 35, may remember the mass protests sparked in Nigeria in May 1989 by the hardships generated by General Ibrahim Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Like in Venezuela, there were massacres, there were arrests and there were detentions. And taking part in the protests were labour unions, popular-democratic organisations, human rights activists, students, professionals, academics, market women and men and de-classed individuals, the “wretched of the earth” and those Marx said were victims of “no particular injustice, but injustice in general”.
Several political re-groupings were inspired on the Left: These included the Gani Fawehinmi Solidarity Organisation (GFSA) and the Popular Democratic Front (PDF). But unlike what happened in Venezuela three months earlier, the revolutionary momentum generated by the May 1989 events in Nigeria was lost. There were at least 10 other lost revolutionary moments during the long Babangida – Abacha military dictatorship (1984 – 1998).
The period (1989-1992) was for Hugo Chavez’s military group the period of mobilisation and organisation and, I would add, waiting. But the waiting period ended when a serious national teachers strike erupted in January 1992. On February 4, 1992, Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez initiated a country-wide “military uprising” in Venezuela.
The terms of surrender included the detention, and then discharge, of a number of rebels, including Chavez himself, from the army and the re-absorption of others. On November 27, 1992, just a couple of months after the February 4, 1992 defeat, and with Chavez and some of his colleagues in prison, another military coup d’etat was attempted. This one also failed. On this occasion senior officers, including generals, participated and more targets were seized.
Hugo Chavez’s revolutionary line greatly contributed to the achievement of 52 per cent abstention in the presidential election of November 4, 1993. Dr. Rafael Caldera, however, won. On March 26, 1994, the new president, who had included the pledge to release Hugo Chavez and his colleagues from prison in his manifesto, fulfilled this popular election promise. (That pledge had boosted his victory chances).
Shortly after his release from prison, Venezuelans, including activists and leftist leaders, started to agitate that MBR 200 should take part in the presidential elections scheduled for 1998 and that Hugo Chavez should contest. Responding in 1996, the MBR 200 carried out a survey “to see how people felt about a electoral participation and whether Hugo Chavez should be a candidate”. The result was an overwhelming “yes” for electoral participation and Hugo Chavez’s participation as presidential candidate.
Hugo Chavez came out in support of participation and candidature and, by implication, the temporary or permanent suspension of armed struggle. Reinforcing the reasons already provided (failure of two military coups and his own increasing popularity), Hugo Chavez said categorically that the situation was “not ripe for another armed movement.”
Having taken the strategic decision to seek power by electoral means, Hugo Chavez and his party, the MVR, now decided, after electoral victory, to pursue the revolutionary transformation by democratic and constitutional methods – whatever the provocations from the opposition and the permanent enemy, American imperialism. The first thing the new government did was to organize a referendum asking Venezuelans if a Constitutional Assembly should be convoked.
The need for a new constitution had been on the agenda of national discourse for quite a long time and every active political group had taken a position on the matter. So it took only four months to come out with a new draft constitution. In the national referendum on the draft, a “yes” vote of over 70 per cent was recorded. President Hugo Chavez was now empowered to “move the country forward”, as Nigerian politicians would say – without, of course, meaning to move anything except themselves.
The critical point that should be noted here – a point that has already been made, but has to be made again and again – is that for the revolutionary forces, the decision to seek and exercise power and transform the country by constitutional, democratic and peaceful means was a strategic one deliberately taken after a study of the correlation of forces – national and international.
Right from inauguration, every action taken by President Chavez was backed by the Constitution. In particular, the president consulted the National Assembly on every major step his government intended to take even when the Constitution did not explicitly compel it.
• To be continued.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.