President Nicolas Maduro kept up the combative tone he has taken with the opposition, repeating the government's longstanding contention that Venezuela's enemies are waging a war on its socialist system. (Photos by Franz von Bergen)
Caracas – After the ruling party’s landslide defeat in last week’s congressional election, Venezuela saw a solemn, sorrowful President Maduro lacking for words to explain how Chavismo had come so low. Some say he even cried a tear or two on national TV.
A week later, the 53-year-old handpicked successor of Hugo Chavez is back with a vengeance and is vowing to fight back.
Over the weekend Saturday President Nicolas Maduro addressed the country’s military and said that the coming year could see a political showdown between the socialist administration and its enemies. He told them to be prepared for a fight.
“We will not allow the right and the bourgeoisie to take our independence," Maduro said, asking Venezuelans to be "ready soldiers and be prepared to give their life and sacrifice themselves in whatever area sacrifice is needed” in order to see our homeland “free and sovereign.”
After the initial shock following the overwhelming loss, which gives the opposition a supermajority in the National Assembly for the first time in 17 years, the government has veered openly to confrontation and radicalization.
Last week, Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, Chavismo's number two and current Assembly speaker, announced that they will pick 13 of the 32 Supreme Court justices before the new majority is sworn in on Jan. 5.
In Venezuela the Supreme Court justices are appointed for 12-year periods. Late last year the Assembly appointed 10 justices loyal to the government — and if 13 more are picked now, Chavismo would control the high court with at least 23 seats.
One of the most prominent candidates for Supreme Court justice is Elvis Amoroso, a loyal Chavista who failed to get reelected.
Another significant announcement last week had to do with the National Assembly’s radio station and TV channel, which Cabello said will be donated to its current – mostly Chavista – employees.
With this, analysts say, the government is trying to keep a tight lid on the legislative chamber, since traditional media already has a limited presence there.
Both the radio and TV outlets will now be “socially-owned business,” a category created a few years ago for companies managed and controlled by their workers.
The moves by the government overlapped with a clear radicalization in Maduro’s tone.
“In the face of the election’s results we have to debate, rectify and deepen socialism in our country. I will work with the people against the threats from the right wing,” Maduro said during his weekly televised program Tuesday night.
His fired up speech had an immediate effect among the disheartened Chavistas.
The next morning, a group of more than 20 government supporters stormed into a press conference called up by two former Chavista ministers, who were criticizing the administration and blamed it for the unprecedented loss in the polls.
“Maduro said that he was going to work with the people and we will work with him,” yelled one of them. “You rats shouldn’t be criticizing him!”
Visibly shaken, the former ministers cut short the event and left the room through a back door. Some journalists followed, fearing the possibility that the group may be armed (they weren’t).
“I don’t know what’s happening. This is not how Chavistas should behave,” said one of the ministers, Hector Navarro, to Fox News Latino. “We need to be open to criticism.”
Before the presser got interrupted, the ministers said that the Bolivarian Revolution founded by Chavez should be declared in a “state of emergency” after Sunday’s “debacle.”
Later in the day, hundreds of government supporters rallied near the presidential palace to express their support to Maduro, in what they called the “first session of the street’s National Assembly.”
They carried banners filled with images of late president Chavez and messages rejecting the possibility of dialogue with the opposition.
“The opposition wants us to return to how we were in 1989, before the revolution started. They want a change to not change anything, it’s just a change to go backward,” said one of the dozen or so who spoke from a truck during the improvised “assembly.”
They all agreed in the need to further radicalize the socialist government.
“Chavez died for this country and now we have to defend it,” said one of the attendants, Raquel Mata, to FNL.
At one point Maduro came out from the Presidential Palace and thanked the group for the support. He then held a meeting with some 200 of them.
“There are two options,” the president told them later during the meeting, a part of which was televised in the state-owned Globovision. “Either the revolution wins or the right wing imposes a neoliberal model protected by the U.S.’s imperialism,” he said.
With reporting by the Associated Press.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.