Communists resist Chavez’s one party push

RIO CHICO, Venezuela, AP

It shares the Marxist ideals espoused by President Hugo Chavez, but Venezuela’s Communist Party is resisting his call to fold dozens of allied political organizations into a single party. At a meeting Sunday to decide their political fate, many communists said they fully support Chavez but aren’t ready to relinquish their 76-year history as an independent party.

“The Communist Party continues to exist,” party president Jeronimo Carrera said after the closed-door meeting with nearly 1,000 members at a seaside retreat east of Caracas.

The leftist Chavez has already disbanded his own party, the Fifth Republic Movement, to make way for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which is to replace a long list of pro-Chavez parties. While most parties have swiftly agreed, the Communist Party and a second pro-Chavez party, Podemos, have been holdouts. The communists — including union leaders, student activists and cooperative farmers — decided not to disband for now but to join in debate about the ideological direction of Chavez’s new party.

“We accept President Chavez’s invitation to participate in the common effort of creating a new party,” Carrera said. “We have decided to wait a bit for now before deciding definitively and categorically on our inclusion or not.” The party’s red flag, bearing a hammer and sickle, flew outside an auditorium while delegates ended the weekend meeting singing the national anthem.

Some wore T-shirts emblazoned with pro Chavez slogans, and party members stressed they wholeheartedly back Chavez. But an attachment to the party’s traditions and ideology has made the idea of giving it up hard to swallow for many. “The Communist Party is not dissolving. That’s for sure, although the decision isn’t official yet,” 25-year-old Nestor Ramos said at the start of the meeting, after traveling 14 hours by bus to attend.

The Communist Party, created on March 5, 1931, marked its 76th anniversary on Monday. In its early years, the party weathered years of persecution by right-wing dictators like Juan Vicente Gomez and Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez, so it is strange to some party members that the socialist Chavez could spell the party’s ultimate demise.

“That would be a true irony, but circumstances change,” said Carrera, 84, who was imprisoned three times for working clandestinely against the rule of Perez Jimenez, who was ousted in 1958.

“We have always been a working-class party, and if we join the single party, we would lose that because it would be a party representing all social classes,” Carrera said in an interview last week at the party headquarters in Caracas, where portraits of communist icons Vladimir Lenin and Ho Chi Minh hang on the walls.

Carrera has said he sees the solution being for party members to decide on a personal basis whether to join Chavez’s new party.

Although the Communist Party is relatively small, its popularity has surged since Chavez was first elected in 1998.

Hundreds of party members have been elected to municipal councils, nearly a dozen Communist lawmakers sit in the entirely pro-Chavez National Assembly and more young blood is constantly pumped into the movement through the Communist Youth, the party’s youth wing.

Young party leaders include David Velasquez, 28, who in January became Chavez’s first Communist Party Cabinet member when he was appointed minister for popular participation and social development.

Chavez says Venezuela needs a single socialist party to rein in political interests and more efficiently lead his movement. Many analysts call it an effort to consolidate party control.

Regardless of what the Communist Party ultimately decides, many party members said they plan to contribute in developing what Chavez calls a new “21st century socialism.”

The party Podemos, meanwhile, said last week it wasn’t ready yet to join the new, unified party.

“We will not participate, nor will we ever participate, in single ideologies because Venezuela is a diverse, plural society,” Podemos president Ismael Garcia told a crowd of party members on Friday.