Amidst headlines dominated by the situation in Ukraine, this bit of news slipped by almost unnoticed at the end of February; Ben Rowswell replaced Paul Gibbard as Canadian ambassador to Venezuela, as mandated by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. But a quick look into the appointee’s background brings special significance to his promotion, especially as opposition protests escalate in Venezuela.
Described in 2010 as a “rising foreign service star” by the Toronto Star, Rowswell has served as Canada’s official diplomatic representative in a number of conspicuous places across the Middle East. From Kandahar, Afghanistan to Kabul and Iraq immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Rowswell has become an expert at representing Canada’s interests in the heat of conflict.
At the age of 22 he was baptized into the foreign service by fire, working in Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War of the early 1990s. He went on to work for the Canadian Embassy in Cairo from 1995-98.
A diplomat for the digital age, he held the title of “Director of Innovation” at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
While overseeing the “democratic transitions” of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Egypt, the fledgling attaché specialized in the harnessing of social media for diplomatic missions, in order to interact directly with non-state actors, in effect bypassing the target nation’s government.
In 2011, Rowswell gave a fascinating TEDx talk at Hayward University in California that outlined his views about the power of social media to shape democracy. He focused on post-Murbarak Egypt, before Mohammed Morsi’s election.
He detailed how notions of race, ethnicity and class may be pushed aside when organizing through social media platforms. He theorized that the internet allows for “opensource democracy,” allowing individuals to exchange their ideas as equals.
But let’s look at that idea in the context of Venezuela, where the middle and upper classes are more likely to have regular access to the internet. Twitter and Facebook have been the choice tools of the opposition in recent months, both to organize protests and to call upon international support.
The Bolivarian Revolution itself was born 15 years ago upon massive social movements and since has experimented with many revolutionary forms of democratic participation. But theirs is a different concept of democracy than what Rowswell and other Western powers have in mind.
After the 2002 coup attempt and the mass mobilizations that restored Chavez to power, the cause of socialism was taken up with greater enthusiasm. Since its commence the Bolivarian government has created institutions that, while not directly expropriating capital, have challenged its long term prospects.
Nowadays workers’ cooperatives and collective property exist alongside corporate conglomerates and private investments. There exists a form of dual power in Venezuela, and within that balance, a gulf of classes widened by the shift in authority.
The Canadian government has made it clear that its interests lie outside the decades of organization led by the Venezuelan masses.
A motion that received unanimous consent from all parties in the House of Commons and sponsored by NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar effectively condemned the Venezuelan government’s attempts at dealing with recent protests.
The statement was approved by Conservatives and Liberals alike, including MP Jim Karygiannis who has been extremely critical of the Venezuelan government.
Rowswell also argued that social media can create transparency yet Venezuela’s opposition has provided ample evidence to the contrary. Many photos from Turkey, Ukraine, Brazil, and even Syria have flown around social networks, meant to stir up indignation at the treatment of protestors in Venezuela. During the telecast of the Oscars, the opposition took to Twitter to claim the ceremony had been censored. The truth was that the Oscars was aired on TNT in Venezuela, a satellite channel.
Canada, too, knows how to wage internet campaigns and will not be left behind. Within hours of Rowswell’s appointment, a new Embassy account popped up on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/CanEmbVenezuela) Adam Goldenberg, liberal partisan and former speechwriter for Michael Ignatieff, tweeted in response: “Congratulations, Ben! Excellent choice, Minister, for all sorts of reasons.” As always, Canada’s imperial foreign policy is a bipartisan affair.
There’s no smoking gun, however. This appointment isn’t proof positive that the Canadian government and the Venezuelan opposition are conspiring an attack against president Nicolas Maduro.
While violent coups carried out by a minority are far from being a thing of the past, Canadian policy planners understand that the transformation of the opposition into a mass movement would be a much more efficient way to protect their interests, with less international backlash.
Rowswell is the best man to encourage such a “democratic” counterrevolution, given his pedigree. He certainly knows how to interact with the angry middle classes on Twitter.
As protests continue, it would be wise to keep a close watch on the Canadian Embassy in Caracas.
Venezuela is at a critical moment in its Bolivarian revolution, dealing with serious economic issues due to its transitional economy that is under siege by local oligarchs. At the same time, President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to welcome Edward Snowden, if he opts for political asylum in Venezuela, means that the Obama administration is escalating its hostility towards his government.
Venezuela faces a situation analogous to that of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973 when, as is well documented, the CIA and the local business class conspired to destabilize the economy, overthrow the democratically elected socialist government, and impose the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
It is in this context that we find it ill timed at best that Clif Ross has assailed the Venezuelan government with one-sided and flimsy arguments (e.g., criticizing Chávez for choosing to divert electrical power from basic industry to the populace when natural droughts curtailed hydroelectric production) in recent articles at Dissident Voice and CounterPunch Weekend Edition.
A former Chávista, Ross now takes what he describes as an “agnostic” view of the Bolivarian movement. His agnosticism extends to the US-backed opposition, which Ross argued in his talk in Berkeley could be even better for Venezuela if it were to come to power.
As solidarity activists, the Task Force on the Americas is not afflicted with agnostic angst; we support the social justice movements against imperialist intervention. Our responsibility is to allow the Venezuelans to resolve the contradictions within their movement without the interference of the US government.
A class analysis is needed of what is happening in Venezuela. The many problems with the Bolivarian revolution are inherent in trying to create socialism on the foundations of capitalism. Within Chávismo there is an acute awareness of problems, and President Maduro is working on them. We support the overall Bolivarian struggle against outside interference, because the alternative of the opposition in power would mean no opportunity for a people’s agenda.
Ross is concerned about the contagion of state power. None of the 21st century socialist governments in Latin America pass his muster. All are corrupt, authoritarian, and going in the wrong direction in his view.
But it was through state power that the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela distributed land to 300,000 families, halved the poverty rate, reduced extreme poverty by two-thirds, went from being among one of the most economically unequal nations in the Latin America to being the among the most equal, reduced child malnutrition by 40%, increased social expenditures by 60%, built 700,000 homes, and returned 1 million hectares to Indigenous communities.
This same government has promoted community councils and other instruments of participatory democracy. Not surprisingly, according to the annual World Happiness poll, Venezuela is the second happiest country in the world.
A mere decade and a half ago, most analysts would have ranked Venezuela as least likely to stand up on its own two feet to challenge the Empire, to be recognized as sovereign and equal. It was arguably the most sycophantically Americanized nation in South America. In a mere 14 years of the Bolivarian revolution, there has been a blossoming of home grown culture. A sense of national identity and pride has become universal, even among the Miami jet-setting opposition elements.
Today, 32-year old musical wunderkind and avowed Chavista Gustavo Dudamel is not only the music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar in Caracas but of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles. Culture is still being imported, but the shipping lanes are going both ways now.
The Bolivarian revolution is considered a major threat by the US empire. The US has a stated policy of regime change for Venezuela, spending millions of dollars on “democracy promotion” to demonize and destabilize the Bolivarian movement. With the US as the sole super power having an uncontested military superiority, the Bolivarian revolution is all the more of a threat because it is a “threat of a good example.”
In 2008, when the US financial crisis precipitated a world recession, the capitalist solution was to impose austerity measures on working people with increased unemployment and economic insecurity. In contrast, the Venezuelan government reduced the gap between rich and poor by elevating the poor.
As James Petras has pointed out, US policy toward Venezuela has taken many tactical turns. But the enduring objective has been the same: oust the Chavistas, reverse the nationalization of big businesses, abolish the mass community and worker based councils, and revert the country into a client-state. These are the salient issues the solidarity movement needs to address.
Roger D. Harris is President of the Task Force on the Americas, a 29-year-old human rights organization based in Marin County, which works in solidarity with the social justice movements in Latin America and in opposition to US interference with their self-determination. Visit Roger’s website.
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According to a statement by the FAO Director General José Graziano Da Silva, Venezuela will receive a certificate of recognition at the organization’s next conference to be held in Rome beginning June 15. The recognition is for successfully halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, a goal established in 1996 to be achieved by 2015.
FAO statistics say that 13.5% of Venezuelans suffered from hunger in 1990 – 1992, compared to 5% in 2007 – 2012.
The other countries that will be recognized for meeting this goal are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa, São Tomé and Principe, Thailand, Uruguay, and Vietnam.
Since the start of the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, the Venezuelan government has developed a series of policies regarding food and nutrition, that have been recognized by the FAO as helping eradicate hunger in the country.
Local FAO representative Marcelo Resende said in March that the government has been able to “understand that food is everybody’s right and not just the privilege of a few, and it worked based on that.”
Chief of an electoral observation mission of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Carlos Alvarez said Wednesday that Venezuela possesses a reliable and transparent electoral system that inspires “plenty of confidence”.
Alvarez said Venezuela’s election infrastructure satisfies the requirements of a free and fair democracy, reported Prensa Latina.
On April 14, the UNASUR Electoral Council will again observe Venezuelan elections, after first doing so last October.
On 7 October 2012, Alvarez recalled, there was high participation rate in Venezuela’s presidential elections, even though voting is not compulsory. In that process, Hugo Chavez won with 55.07 per cent of the ballot; 8,191,132 votes.
Secretary of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), Alvarez added that on April 14 he will chair “a neutral mission, which allows UNASUR to gather information, knowledge and experience to have a stronger Electoral Council.”
“As UNASUR has an Electoral Council fully joined to regional tasks, the self-determination of its electoral processes will be… more guaranteed in the region,” said Alvarez.
Alvarez said that initiatives such as the council remove the need for supervision from the so-called developed nations. “Less and less countries request… international observation [from] the developed world.”
Latin America, he said, “has eliminated electoral fraud and the military coup d’etat, which used to be two tools for the [r]ight to prevent popular processes.”
Concerning the recent passing of the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chavez, he said that it “obviously left a very big emptiness, as in Venezuela as in Latin America, as in the rest of the world.”
Edited by Venezuelanalysis
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The progressive cause in Latin America but also worldwide has lost one of its most visible leaders. How would you describe the political ideology professed by Hugo Chavez and his Venezuelan United Socialist Party?
Humanity has lost a titan with the passing of Hugo Chavez. Without doubt Chavez is the most important revolutionary leader to have emerged in Latin America – indeed, from the Global South – in at least a generation, if not in a century. When Chavez came to power in 1999 it was the heyday of neo-liberal hegemony in Latin America and around the world. Chavez’ election irked the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and raised eyebrows in the halls of power in Washington and elsewhere. But it was not until the April 2001 Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec, Canada, that the direction Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution would take became clear. Chavez was the only head of state among the 24 hemispheric leaders present at that meeting who refused to sign on to the declaration approving the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas that, if approved, would have created by 2005 a giant free trade zone from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. It was at that moment that neo-liberalism definitively lost its hegemony.
But Chavez not only rejected neo-liberalism. He put socialism back on the public agenda at a time when apologists for global capitalism were still claiming it was “the End of History” and when the defeatist left was insisting that we had to be “realistic” and “pragmatic,” to renounce anti-capitalism, and to limit ourselves to putting a “human face” on the capitalist system. Chavez called for a renewed democratic socialism – what he and the PUSV called “21st century socialism” – a socialism based on the protagonism and democratic control of the popular classes from below, as evinced in the 40,000 Communal Councils, the tens of thousands of worker cooperatives, and the thousands of public enterprises run by workers councils in Venezuela. It is apropos to recall these experiences in Venezuela take place at a time when the Greek and other European peoples are reeling under the austerity imposed by the brutal dictatorship of transnational finance capital.
In an era in which socialists in the west have embraced wholeheartedly the neoliberal project, on Chavez’s watch, the oil industry in Venezuela was nationalized, government spending increased substantially (up to 40% in 2012), and welfare projects were initiated on a massive scale. What challenges did Chavez have to overcome in order to accomplish these goals?
The anti-Chavista forces, Washington, and the international media are fond of saying that Chavez “polarized” Venezuela. But Venezuela was polarized long before Chavez came to power, with a tiny capitalist class and state elite and a sizable middle class on the one side – approximately some 30 percent of the Venezuelan population – and the impoverished majority on the other side. Above all Chavez reverted the country’s oil wealth to this majority. The re-nationalization of the oil industry allowed the Chavez government to redirect state resources towards this poor majority. The social achievements of the Bolivarian revolution are now well known: poverty was cut by more than half, from over 60 percent to some 25 percent of the population, and extreme poverty dropped from 25 percent to some seven percent; health and education became universally accessible; life expectancy rose from 74.5 to 79.5 years; unemployment dropped from 12 percent to 6 percent; hundreds of thousands of new homes have been constructed ; and so on.
But these achievements, and more generally, the effort to reorient the country’s resources to the poor majority, came at the cost of the enmity of the bourgeoisie and much of the middle classes, of Washington, and of the Latin American oligarchies and capitalist classes. The Chavista government faced ever more intense destabilization campaigns, including attempted coups, military and paramilitary plots, political conspiracies, disinformation and misinformation (of which much of the international press has been willing accomplices), employee strikes and economic sabotage, and so on. The country has faced a war of attrition that has taken a heavy toll.
Moreover, the drive to construct socialism has taken place within a capitalist global economy. Some 70 percent of the Venezuelan economy is still in private hands, including the financial system, and the country remains dependent on international oil companies and markets. The material power of national and transnational capital translates into continued political and ideological influence. The law of value and its logic is still very much operative in the economy.
The strategy has been to develop and state and cooperative sector to compete with private national and transnational capital; it has not been to replace the logic of accumulation with a social logic as much as it has been to develop a social logic in the state and cooperative sector alongside the logic of accumulation that remains operative for the economy as a whole. This has generated structural as well as political and ideological contradictions. With regard to the former, for instance, inflation has become a serious problem as has a black market in the currency. This is the challenge of 21st century socialism “in one country.”
Under Chavez, Venezuela had established very special relations with Cuba. Was the relationship mutually beneficial to both countries?
Chavez developed a close friendship with Fidel Castro and the two have worked closely together in confronting Washington’s political and economic domination in the region. Economic relations between the two countries on not based on the criteria of profitability and trade advantage but on solidarity and complementarity. Cuba receives Venezuelan oil in exchange for Cuba sending medical brigades and other forms of social assistance. Yet Chavez stated on numerous occasions that Venezuela is constructing its own model of socialism. Sure the relationship has been mutually beneficial, but more to the point, that relationship reflects the broader matter of international political and economic relations among socialist-oriented countries, or countries whose governments are seeking relations based on cooperation and solidarity rather than on competition.
Venezuela (together with Cuba) has played a leadership role in Latin America in forging a political union, economic integration, and an alternative regional cooperation and development model based on solidarity rather than profit and driven by member states rather than transnational corporations and such international financial agencies as the IMF and the World Bank. In 2004 Venezuela and Cuba set up the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, or ALBA to promote integration and solidarity on the principle of solidarity not competition. Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and several other countries have joined ALBA. While Venezuela has provided oil on concessionary terms through ALBA, it has, more importantly, promoted projects such as a regional bank and currency, regional public agricultural and industrial enterprises, and joint infrastructural, social, and communications programs. In December 2011 the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, held its inaugural summit in Caracas. The CELAC brings together every country in the hemisphere excluding the United States and Canada and is a direct political challenge to Washington’s historic domination in the region.
Beyond Latin America, Venezuela has diversified its international economic relations – China is becoming the major trading and investment partner – and promoted South-South cooperation. Venezuela has come out strongly in support of the Palestinian struggle and other such causes, and against U.S. intervention around the world, even when it has cost the country political capital and economic support internationally. In sum, Venezuela has pursued not a self-interested and opportunistic foreign policy such as that of the former Soviet Union but one based on what would be true socialist principles of solidarity and cooperation.
Socialism in Latin America is on an upwards spiral since the late 2000s. What explains its rise at this particular historical juncture?
It is not difficult to understand the rise of socialism, or certainly, the spiral of anti-capitalism. In the wake of the 1970s crisis of world capitalism the bourgeoisie in the centers of the system, together with state elites and organic intellectuals who serve that bourgeoisie, launched capitalist globalization and undertook a vast new round of “primitive accumulation” around the world, destabilizing hundreds of millions of people. One of the key vehicles for this new round of capitalist expansion was neo-liberalism, a program which has facilitated the transfer of resources from the poor and working classes everywhere to a new transnational capitalist class, especially transnational finance capital, and to emerging middle and professional strata enjoying the fruits of the new global capitalism. Very simply, global capitalism has thrown countless millions into misery and uncertainty. The system has demonstrated that it is a failure for a majority of humanity.
It is in this context that starting in the late 1990s resistance forces around the world began to coalesce into a critical anti-capitalist mass and the banner of “another world is possible” was raised. But what kind of a new world? It is in this context that the Bolivarian revolution and its worldwide impact must be understood. And it is in this context that the extraordinary vision, charisma, and foresightedness of Hugo Chavez must be appreciated. Venezuela under Chavez, much more than resistance to global capitalism, is an example that a new world truly can – and must – be created, once based on the principles and practices of democratic socialism, if not on the label.
Venezuela will hold presidential elections on April 14. Will the United Socialist Party manage to sustain the momentum without Chavez, especially since it is a well known fact that his party is fractured by intra-party rivalries?
The greatest danger to the Bolivarian revolution, in my view, has always come from within, from the “endogenous right,” or the “Chavista right-wing,” that is, from portions of the Chavista movement that wish to see in Venezuela a more mild social democratic project and also from bureaucratic state and party elites who are more interested in acquiring their own power, privilege, and authority, often through corruption, than in helping to develop the self-empowerment of the working and popular classes. Yes, there are intra-party rivalries but I think that in the larger political analysis these must be seen in light of the struggle to avoid a bureaucratic top-down hijacking of power-from-below.
Nicolas Maduro has been a leader of the radical left for several decades and comes from a trade-union background. The Chavista movement has rallied around his leadership and his candidacy. He has proven, since Chavez moved into a terminal state in December, that he is a capable leader and the Chavista mass base understands that its struggle to defend and to deepen its revolution is now tied to electoral support for Maduro’s candidacy in the upcoming vote.
William I Robinson is Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and author among other books of Latin America and Global Capitalism (2008).
The death of Hugo Chávez is a great loss to the people of Venezuela who have been lifted out of poverty and have created a deep participatory democracy. Chavez was a leader who, in unity with the people, was able to free Venezuela from the grips of US Empire, bring dignity to the poor and working class, and was central to a Latin American revolt against US domination.
Chávez grew up a campesino, a peasant, raised in poverty. His parents were teachers, his grandmother an Indian whom he credits with teaching him solidarity with the people. During his military service, he learned about Simon Bolivar, who freed Latin America from Spanish Empire. This gradually led to the modern Bolivarian Revolution he led with the people. The Chávez transformation was built on many years of a mass political movement that continued after his election, indeed saved him when a 2002 coup briefly removed him from office. The reality is Venezuela’s 21st Century democracy is bigger than Chávez. This will become more evident now that he is gone.
The Lies They Tell Us
If Americans knew the truth about the growth of real democracy in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, they would demand economic democracy and participatory government, which together would threaten the power of concentrated wealth. Real democracy creates a huge challenge to the oligarchs and their neoliberal agenda because it is driven by human needs, not corporate greed. That is why major media in the US, which are owned by six corporations, aggressively misinform the public about Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution.
Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes:
The Western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it.
In fact, just the opposite is true. Venezuela, since the election of Chávez, has become one of the most democratic nations on Earth. Its wealth is increasing and being widely shared. But Venezuela has been made so toxic that even the more liberal media outlets propagate distortions to avoid being criticized as too leftist.
We spoke with Mike Fox, who went to Venezuela in 2006 to see for himself what was happening. Fox spent years documenting the rise of participatory democracy in Venezuela and Brazil. He found a grassroots movement creating the economy and government they wanted, often pushing Chávez further than he wanted to go.
They call it the “revolution within the revolution.” Venezuelan democracy and economic transformation are bigger than Chávez. Chávez opened a door to achieve the people’s goals: literacy programs in the barrios, more people attending college, universal access to health care, as well as worker-owned businesses and community councils where people make decisions for themselves. Change came through decades of struggle leading to the election of Chávez in 1998, a new constitution and ongoing work to make that constitution a reality.
Challenging American Empire
The subject of Venezuela is taboo because it has been the most successful country to repel the neoliberal assault waged by the US on Latin America. This assault included Operation Condor, launched in 1976, in which the US provided resources and assistance to bring friendly dictators who supported neoliberal policies to power throughout Latin America. These policies involved privatizing national resources and selling them to foreign corporations, de-funding and privatizing public programs such as education and health care, deregulating and reducing trade barriers.
In addition to intense political repression under these dictators between the 1960s and 1980s, which resulted in imprisonment, murder and disappearances of tens of thousands throughout Latin America, neoliberal policies led to increased wealth inequality, greater hardship for the poor and working class, as well as a decline in economic growth.
Neoliberalism in Venezuela arrived through a different path, not through a dictator. Although most of its 20th century was spent under authoritarian rule, Venezuela has had a long history of pro-democracy activism. The last dictator, Marcos Jimenez Perez, was ousted from power in 1958. After that, Venezuelans gained the right to elect their government, but they existed in a state of pseudo-democracy, much like the US currently, in which the wealthy ruled through a managed democracy that ensured the wealthy benefited most from the economy.
As it did in other parts of the world, the US pushed its neoliberal agenda on Venezuela through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. These institutions required Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) as terms for development loans. As John Perkins wrote in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, great pressure was placed on governments to take out loans for development projects. The money was loaned by the US, but went directly to US corporations who were responsible for the projects, many of which failed, leaving nations in debt and not better off. Then the debt was used as leverage to control the government’s policies so they further favored US interests. Anun Shah explains the role of the IMF and World Bank in more detail in Structural Adjustment – a Major Cause of Poverty.
Neoliberalism Leads to the Rise of Chávez
A turning point in the Venezuelan struggle for real democracy occurred in 1989. President Carlos Andres Perez ran on a platform opposing neoliberalism and promised to reform the market during his second term. But following his re-election in 1988, he reversed himself and continued to implement the “Washington Consensus” of neoliberal policies – privatization and cuts to social services. The last straw came when he ended subsidies for oil. The price of gasoline doubled and public transportation prices rose steeply.
Protests erupted in the towns surrounding the capitol, Caracas, and quickly spread into the city itself. President Perez responded by revoking multiple constitutional rights to protest and sending in security forces who killed an estimated 3,000 people, most of them in the barrios. This became known as the “Caracazo” (“the Caracas smash”) and demonstrated that the president stood with the oligarchs, not with the people.
Under President Perez, conditions continued to deteriorate for all but the wealthy in Venezuela. So people organized in their communities and with Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez attempted a civilian-led coup in 1992. Chávez was jailed, and so the people organized for his release. Perez was impeached for embezzlement of 250 million bolivars and the next president, Rafael Caldera, promised to release Chávez when he was elected. Chávez was freed in 1994. He then traveled throughout the country to meet with people in their communities and organizers turned their attention to building a political movement.
Chávez ran for president in 1998 on a platform that promised to hold a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution saying:
I swear before my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times.
Against the odds, Chávez won the election and became president in 1999.
While his first term was cautious and center-left, including a visit by Chávez to the NY Stock Exchange to show support for capitalism and encourage foreign investment, he kept his promise. Many groups participated in the formation of the new constitution, which was gender-neutral and included new rights for women and for the indigenous, and created a government with five branches adding a people’s and electoral branches. The new constitution was voted into place by a 70 percent majority within the year. Chávez also began to increase funding for the poor and expanded and transformed education.
Since then, Chávez has been re-elected twice. He was removed from power briefly in 2002, jailed and replaced by Pedro Carmona, the head of what is equivalent to the Chamber of Commerce. Fox commented that the media was complicit in the coup by blacking it out and putting out false information. Carmona quickly moved to revoke the constitution and disband the legislature. When the people became aware of what was happening, they rapidly mobilized and surrounded the capitol in Caracas. Chávez was reinstated in less than 48 hours.
One reason the Chávez election is called a Bolivarian Revolution is because Simon Bolivar was a military political leader who freed much of Latin America from the Spanish Empire in the early 1800s. The election of Chávez, the new constitution and the people overcoming the coup set Venezuela on the path to free itself from the US empire. These changes emboldened the transformation to sovereignty, economic democracy and participatory government.
In fact, Venezuela paid its debts to the IMF in full five years ahead of schedule and in 2007 separated from the IMF and World Bank, thus severing the tethers of the Washington Consensus. Instead, Venezuela led the way to create the Bank of the South to provide funds for projects throughout Latin America and allow other countries to free themselves from the chains of the IMF and World Bank too.
The Rise of Real Democracy
The struggle for democracy brought an understanding by the people that change only comes if they create it. The pre- Chávez era is seen as a pseudo Democracy, managed for the benefit of the oligarchs. The people viewed Chávez as a door that was opened for them to create transformational change. He was able to pass laws that aided them in their work for real democracy and better conditions. And Chávez knew that if the people did not stand with him, the oligarchs could remove him from power as they did for two days in 2002.
With this new understanding and the constitution as a tool, Chávez and the people have continued to progress in the work to rebuild Venezuela based on participatory democracy and freedom from US interference. Chávez refers to the new system as “21st century socialism.” It is very much an incomplete work in progress, but already there is a measurable difference.
Mark Weisbrot of CEPR points out that real GDP per capita in Venezuela expanded by 24 percent since 2004. In the 20 years prior to Chávez, real GDP per person actually fell. Venezuela has low foreign public debt, about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is only 2 percent of GDP. Weisbrot writes:
From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half, and this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chávez took office.
Venezuela has reduced unemployment from 20 percent to 7 percent.
As George Galloway wrote upon Chávez’s death:
Under Chávez’ revolution the oil wealth was distributed in ever rising wages and above all in ambitious social engineering. He built the fifth largest student body in the world, creating scores of new universities. More than 90% of Venezuelans ate three meals a day for the first time in the country’s history. Quality social housing for the masses became the norm with the pledge that by the end of the presidential term, now cut short, all Venezuelans would live in a dignified house.
Venezuela is making rapid progress on other measures too. It has a high human development index and a low and shrinking index of inequality. Wealth inequality in Venezuela is half of what it is in the United States. It is rated “the fifth-happiest nation in the world” by Gallup. And Pepe Escobar writes that:
No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform.
Venezuela has undertaken significant steps to build food security through land reform and government assistance. New homes are being built, health clinics are opening in under-served areas and cooperatives for agriculture and business are growing.
Venezuelans are very happy with their democracy. On average, they gave their own democracy a score of seven out of ten while the Latin American average was 5.8. Meanwhile, 57 percent of Venezuelans reported being happy with their democracy compared to an average for Latin American countries of 38 percent, according to a poll conducted by Latinobarometro. While 81 percent voted in the last Venezuelan election, only 57.5 percent voted in the recent US election.
Chávez won that election handily as he has all of the elections he has run in since 1999. As Galloway describes him, Chávez was “the most elected leader in the modern era.” He won his last election with 55 percent of the vote but was never inaugurated due to his illness.
Beyond Voting: The Deepening of Democracy in Venezuela
This is not to say that the process has been easy or smooth. The new constitution and laws passed by Chávez have provided tools, but the government and media still contain those who are allied with the oligarchy and who resist change. People have had to struggle to see that what is written on paper is made into a reality. For example, Venezuelans now have the right to reclaim urban land that is fallow and use it for food and living. Many attempts have been made to occupy unused land and some have been met by hostility from the community or actual repression from the police. In other cases, attempts to build new universities have been held back by the bureaucratic process.
It takes time to build a new democratic structure from the bottom up. And it takes time to transition from a capitalist culture to one based on solidarity and participation. In “Venezuela Speaks,” one activist, Iraida Morocoima, says “Capitalism left us with so many vices that I think our greatest struggle is against these bad habits that have oppressed us.” She goes on to describe a necessary culture shift as, “We must understand that we are equal, while at the same time we are different, but with the same rights.”
Chávez passed a law in 2006 that united various committees in poor barrios into community councils that qualify for state funds for local projects. In the city, community councils are composed of 200 to 400 families. The councils elect spokespeople and other positions such as executive, financial and “social control” committees. The council members vote on proposals in a general assembly and work with facilitators in the government to carry through on decisions. In this way, priorities are set by the community and funds go directly to those who can carry out the project such as building a road or school. There are currently more than 20,000 community councils in Venezuela creating a grassroots base for participatory government.
A long-term goal is to form regional councils from the community councils and ultimately create a national council. Some community councils already have joined as communes, a group of several councils, which then have the capacity for greater research and to receive greater funds for large projects.
The movement to place greater decision-making capacity and control of local funds in the hands of communities is happening throughout Latin America and the world. It is called participatory budgeting and it began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has grown so that as many as 50,000 people now participate each year to decide as much as 20 percent of the city budget. There are more than 1,500 participatory budgets around the world in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Fox produced a documentary, Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, which explains participatory budgeting in greater detail.
The Unfinished Work of Hugo Chávez Continues
The movements that brought him to power and kept him in power have been strengthened by Hugo Chávez. Now the “revolution within the revolution” will be tested. In 30 days there will be an election and former vice president, now interim president, Nicolas Maduro will likely challenge the conservative candidate Chávez defeated.
If the United States and the oligarchs think the death of Chávez means the end of the Bolivarian Revolution he led, they are in for a disappointment. This revolution, which is not limited to Venezuela, is likely to show to itself and the world that it is deep and strong. The people-powered transformation with which Chávez was in solidarity will continue.
• This article is a modified version of “The Secret Rise of 21st Century Democracy,”which originally appeared in Truthout.
Over the last few weeks the private English media has stepped up its campaign against the Venezuelan revolution, spreading a number of lies and misconceptions around President Hugo Chavez’s health, the politics and legalities involved in his swearing-in for his new term, and the Venezuelan government’s handling of the situation. […]
Here, Venezuelanalysis.com debunks the top five lies currently being spread by private media.
1) The Venezuelan government is being secretive about Chavez’s health
This charge has been made by international media since Chavez first announced he had cancer in June 2011. Criticisms by the private media of government “secrecy” around his condition have intensified as the swearing-in date approaches, in part reflecting an increasingly fractious Venezuelan opposition anxious for details they could use to their advantage.
Mass media sources describe Chavez’s medical condition as “a mystery”, with outlets such as the Los Angeles Times referring to government information on Chavez’s post-operatory recovery as “sporadic and thinly detailed medical updates”. Outlets such as the British BBC and the Australian have picked up the opposition’s call for the Venezuelan government to tell the “truth” on Chavez’s health, implying that the government is withholding information, or outright lying.
The argument that the Venezuelan government is keeping secrets feeds into the discourse most mainstream media use in relation to the Bolivarian revolution, recently describing the government as “despots” (Chicago Tribune) and “autocratic populists” (Washington Post).
Other media has put out its own versions of Chavez’s state of health, with the Spanish ABC going to great lengths to describe even his bowel movements, and reporting that he is in a coma, and the multinational Terra mistaking its desires for reality, reporting that Chavez is already dead. These media outlets have just one “anonymous” source for their reports; they somehow, apparently, have an infiltrator (or an “intelligence source” as they call it) among Chavez’s Cuban medical team.
The government has in fact released 28 statements updating the public on Chavez’s condition since his operation on 11 December, an average of around 1 per day. These statements are available in full text on the internet, and are also being read out by communication minister Ernesto Villegas on all Venezuelan public television and radio.
In the latest statement, released yesterday, Villegas said that Chavez’s condition remains “stationary” compared to the last report, where the public was informed that he has a respiratory “deficiency” due to a pulmonary infection.
It is true however, that beyond mentioning the general cancer site; the pelvic region, the government hasn’t revealed the exact type of cancer that Chavez has, nor the exact nature of the operation that he underwent on 11 December. This is possibly due to privacy reasons.
When asked directly about this issue in a recent interview, Jorge Rodriguez, a doctor and key figure in Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said “I’d give the example of Mrs. Hilary Clinton, who had a cerebral vascular accident. There are three factors which influence these cases: the part of the brain where it happens, the size of the affected zone, and if it produces a hemorrhage or obstruction. Well fine, I’ve not seen any serious and decent doctor ask in which zone she had the lesion. And I think it’s fine that they don’t ask because that lady has the right to privacy. I’ve not seen Ramon Guillermo Aveledo (the executive secretary of the opposition’s MUD coalition) asking to know if her accident affected her in the frontal lobe, in which case, of course, she couldn’t continue giving the instructions she normally gives”.
Of course, when the international media report on the Venezuelan opposition’s stance towards Chavez’s health situation, they invariably fail to mention that the opposition’s approach has a lot less to do with a crusade for truth, and more to do with its hopes of creating a political and constitutional crisis over the issue. They make out that the Venezuelan government is being deliberately misleading and manipulative with information, but would never point the finger at Western leaders such as George Bush or Barack Obama for not announcing the exact locations of their frequent, long, and luxurious vacations, for example.
2) It is unconstitutional if Chavez doesn’t take the oath of office on 10 January
This is another lie that takes a leaf straight from the opposition’s book. Most opposition leaders, and even the Venezuelan Catholic Church, are arguing that if Chavez cannot be officially sworn-in as president on 10 January then he will lose his status as president of Venezuela. They say that in that case, Chavez should be declared “permanently absent”, and the head of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, would have to take over as president and call fresh elections. The opposition also claim that the swearing-in ceremony cannot be postponed, and that if Chavez continues on as president after 10 January it would be a “flagrant violation of the constitution”. Their strategy is to use their own interpretation of the constitution in order to try and depose Chavez on a technicality while the president-elect lies in Cuba struggling in post-surgery recovery.
Private media outlets have latched onto this argument, and misinformed about the Venezuelan constitution. In a highly misleading article, the Washington Post claimed that a delay in Chavez’s inauguration ceremony would be “a stretch of the constitution’s ambiguous wording”. Similar comments were made in other U.S. outlets, with Time arguing that Venezuela’s constitution is “a murky map that could send the western hemisphere’s most oil-rich nation into precarious governmental limbo this year”. Reuters argued that the Venezuelan government is “violating the constitution” and the country will be “left in a power vacuum”, and the BBC, which maintained a more reserved tone, still portrayed interpretations of the constitution as muddied debate between government and opposition.
However, Venezuela’s constitution is clear on the situation. The conditions under which a president can be declared permanently absent and new elections called are covered by article 233, and are, “death, resignation, destitution decreed by the Supreme Court, mental or physical incapacity certified by a medical council designated by the Supreme Court with the approval of the National Assembly, abandonment of the post, [or] a popular recall of the mandate”.
Currently Chavez’s status is that of “absence from the national territory”, a status which is granted by the national assembly. This could eventually be declared a “temporary absence” from the presidency, which is granted by the national assembly for a period of ninety days, and can be extended for 90 further days, as outlined by articles 234 and 235 of the constitution.
What the opposition are trying to do is use article 231 of the constitution, which describes the presidential inauguration, to argue for Chavez’s deposal. The article states that the president elect “will assume their mandate on the 10th of January of the first year of their constitutional period, through a swearing-in ceremony in front of the National Assembly”. The opposition claim that Chavez’s inability to attend that ceremony means that he has not assumed his term and his “permanent absence” should be declared. However, as noted above, not being able to attend the inauguration ceremony is not considered a reason for “permanent absence” in the Venezuelan constitution, leaving the Venezuelan opposition without a constitutional leg to stand on.
Rather, this situation is dealt with by the second half of article 231, which states, “If for any supervening reason the president cannot take office in front of the National Assembly, s/he will do so before the Supreme Court”. No date is specified.
Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Harman Escarra, an opposition supporter who helped draft the 1999 constitution, explained in an interview with Venezuelan daily Ciudad CCS that constitutionally, even if the president can’t attend the 10 January ceremony, the new presidential term still begins, including the constitutional mandate of the president’s council of state, the vice-president, and government ministers. As such, he affirmed that in Venezuela “there isn’t a power vacuum”.
The constitutional lawyer further explained that under both the letter and spirit of article 231 of the constitution, “The President, from the point of view of sovereignty, is the President. There’s no other, and the mandate of the popular majority cannot not be overturned because of the issue of a date at a specific moment, because that would be to violate a sacred principle that is in article five of the constitution, which says that power resides in the sovereignty of the people”.
Therefore, it is erroneous for international media to report that Venezuela is entering a constitutionally ambiguous situation in which either the status of the president or the next constitutional step is not clear. Further, it is not only misleading, but dangerous to wrongly paint Chavez allies as looking to subvert the constitution to stay in power, when the opposition is trying to question the government’s constitutional legitimacy in order to provoke a political crisis and depose Chavez as president. The opposition is not the “critical” and “unbiased” democratic voice that the private media represent them as. Such reporting also displays a certain level of hypocrisy, as one can be sure that if the U.S. president or British prime minister were unable to assume a particular inauguration ceremony for health reasons, such outlets would not start casting doubt on their legitimacy, as they are currently doing with Chavez.
3) Should elections have to be called, they may not be “fair”, and opposition leader Henrique Capriles has a good chance of winning
This third myth adds to the previous two to create the impression that the Bolivarian revolution is undemocratic. It is spouted by most private media, but especially media from the US, which rarely points out the utterly unfair conditions in which elections are held in its own country.
The Washington Post claimed that if Chavez were to die and new elections had to be called, “Chavez’s inner circle…may consider postponing the election or even calling it off”.
“That’s why the first responsibility of the United States and Venezuelan neighbors such as Brazil should be to insist that the presidential election be held and that it be free and fair,” the WP said, and even suggested that “Mr Chavez’s followers or military leaders” might “attempt a coup”.
The US State Department has also called for any elections that Venezuela has to be “free and transparent” and the Chicago Tribune in an article today said, “In October, Chavez vanquished his first serious challenger, Henrique Capriles, despite being too sick to campaign… Too sick to give speeches, he bought votes through political stunts like awarding a free government-built home to his 3 millionth Twitter follower.”
The Chicago Tribune’s statement is a lie; Chavez attended one to two huge rallies around the country in the month before the presidential elections, including one in Merida the authors of this article attended, as well as fulfilling his duties as president. And, of course there is no basis or need for these calls for “fair” elections. None of the private media will remind its readers of the 16 elections held over the last 14 years, that 81% of Venezuelans voluntarily turned out to vote in the October presidential elections, that Venezuela is building up participatory democracy through its communal councils, and that Venezuelans have access to completely free and widely available health care, education, and even to subsidised housing—basic conditions necessary for democracy to be practiced.
The Washington Post argued that the Venezuelan government “fears” free elections because “a fair vote would be won by opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the October presidential ballot but is more popular than Mr. Maduro.” This is wishful thinking, another example of the media mistaking its desire for reality. The opposition did not receive more votes than the governing PSUV in the recent 16 December regional elections, despite Chavez’s absence. The opposition is weak, divided, disillusioned after 14 years of losing election after election (except the 2007 constitutional referendum), has no street presence what so ever, and has no program or cause to unite around, beyond wanting power.
4) A split within the Chavista leadership between Maduro and Cabello is coming
This is another idea bandied about by the Venezuelan opposition and propagated by the international media. The notion, or hope, is that if the worst were to happen and Chavez were to die, Chavismo would immediately become divided among itself and fall apart. In particular, it is argued that national assembly president Diosdado Cabello would try to seize the presidential candidacy of the PSUV from Vice-president Nicolas Maduro. Some opposition figures appear to be actively encouraging this, with opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado demanding that Diosdado Cabello take power on 10 January and that “distrust” and “fear” exist between Cabello and Maduro.
On cue, always backed by vague “analysts” or “observers”, the international media has informed the public of, “A potential rift inside Chavismo between Maduro’s more socialist faction and that of the more pragmatic Cabello” (TIME), or, “Mr Cabello wields considerable power and is thought to harbour his own political ambitions” (BBC), and that, “Chavez’s death or resignation could set off a power struggle within the party among Maduro, Cabello, Chavez’s brother Adan and state governors” (LA Times).
Such commentary has been slammed by Maduro, Cabello and other leaders within Chavismo, who all stress the unity of different currents within the Bolivarian movement in the current difficult situation. Indeed, the scenario of a direct power grab by Cabello or any other figure within Chavismo of Maduro’s role as successor if Chavez cannot assume his presidential term is very unlikely. Just before Chavez flew off to Cuba for surgery in December, he told the nation that, “If such a scenario were to occur, I ask you from my heart that you elect Nicolas Maduro as constitutional president of the republic”. Chavez has such strong support and respect from among his followers that it would be almost unthinkable for another leader within Chavismo to publicly go against Chavez’s express wish that Maduro be his successor. Any attempt to usurp Maduro’s leadership and candidacy in fresh presidential elections would be seen as political suicide.
5) That the revolution is over without Chavez
Most private media have also subtly cast doubt that the revolution will continue without Chavez, suggesting that the leadership will collapse, that Venezuela is already in “economic chaos” and “disaster”, that Venezuela is living a political “crisis” right now, and that the revolutionary process can’t survive without Chavez. The Chicago Tribune said that, “Whoever ends up running Venezuela will preside over the mess Chavez made of a prosperous and promising nation” and there is now “high unemployment, record inflation and rampant crime”. This is despite Venezuela ending 2012 with 19.9% inflation, the lowest in years, and unemployment lower than the US.
The media is ignoring the fact that the country has been doing fine this last month without Chavez, that the PSUV leadership won 20 out of 23 states in the regional elections in December, without Chavez’s presence, that there is no crisis here; schools started again as normal today, the barrio adentro clinics are open, people are working, shopping, returning from Christmas season vacations, as normal. There is no panic buying, no looting, no political unrest.
Most importantly, the media is ignoring, is invisibilising the biggest factor there is; the people of Venezuela. Chavez isn’t just a person, or a leader, he represents a political project; of economic and cultural sovereignty, of Latin American unity, of freedom from US intervention, of all basic rights satisfied, and of participatory democracy. The majority of Venezuelans have shown their support for that project by turning out to vote en masse time and time again, including in elections in which Chavez wasn’t running, with voting rates generally increasing each year. In most other countries people would be tired and would have gotten over so many elections by now. Venezuelans have marched in the thousands and millions around the country again and again, not just to support electoral candidates, but to march for workers’ rights on May Day, as well as for other causes such as gay rights, defending journalists against violent attacks by the opposition, in support of various laws, and more. It was Venezuelans, en masse, who helped overturn the coup against Chavez in 2002.
The list of gains over the last 14 years is a long one. To mention just a few: complete literacy, broadly available and free university education, free healthcare centres in most communities, free laptops to primary school children, free meals for primary school children, subsidised food, subsidised books, increased street culture and street art, a range of new public infrastructure such as train lines and cable cars, laws supporting the rights of disabled people, women, and so on, government assisted urban agriculture, legalised community and worker organising, nearly a 1000 free internet centres, music programs, pensions for the elderly, and much more. These huge changes can’t be quickly reversed, and the Venezuelan people have every reason not to let them be.
Further, over the last 14 years, Venezuelans have woken up. They read and know their laws, everyone, even opposition supporters, spends hours each day debating and discussing politics and economics. Apathy still exists, but is way down. There is a political consciousness and depth that can’t be turned off overnight.
While it is true that after Chavez there will probably be bureaucracy, corruption, reformism, and some internal disagreements, these issues existed with him as a leader as well. Any change in political circumstances is an opportunity to bring these problems to the surface and to confront them.
The people of the Bolivarian movement are fighters, and are here to stay.
While Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez is fighting for his life in Cuba, the liberal press of both sides of the Atlantic (e.g., El Pais ) has not stopped trashing his government. The significance of his victory (12 points ahead of his contender) has yet to be analyzed properly, with evidence. It is remarkable that Chávez would win, sick with cancer, outgunned by the local and international media (think of Syriza’s Greece election) and, rarely acknowledged, an electoral map extremely biased towards the middle and upper classes, with geographical barriers and difficult access to Ids for members of the working classes.
One of the main factors for the popularity of the Chávez Government and its landslide victory in the re-election results of October 2012, is the reduction of poverty, made possible because the government took back control of the national petroleum company PDVSA, and has used the abundant oil revenues, not for benefit of a small class of rentiers as previous governments had done, but to build needed infrastructure and invest in the social services that Venezuelans so sorely needed. During the last ten years, the government has increased social spending by 60.6%, a total of $772 billion [i].
Poverty is not defined solely by lack of income nor is health defined as the lack of illness. Both are correlated and both are multi-factorial, that is, determined by a series of social processes. To make a more objective assessment of the real progress achieved by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela during the last 13 years it is essential to review some of the key available data on the social determinants of health and poverty: education, inequality, jobs and income, health care, food security and social support and services.
With regard to these social determinants of health indicators, Venezuela is now the country in the region with the lowest inequality level (measured by the Gini Coefficient) having reduced inequality by 54%, poverty by 44%. Poverty has been reduced from 70.8% (1996) to 21% (2010). And extreme poverty reduced from 40% (1996) to a very low level of 7.3% (2010). About 20 million people have benefited from anti-poverty programs, called “Misiones” (Up to now, 2.1 million elderly people have received old-age pensions – that is 66% of the population while only 387,000 received pensions before the current government.
Education is a key determinant of both health and poverty and the Bolivarian government has placed a particular emphasis on education allotting it more than 6% of GDP. UNESCO has recognized that illiteracy been eliminated, furthermore, Venezuela is the 3rd most literate country in the region. There is tuition free education from daycare to university; 72% of children attend public daycare and 85% of school age children attend school. There are thousands of new or refurbished schools, including 10 new universities. The country places 2nd in Latin America and 5th in the world with the greatest proportions of university students. In fact, 1 out of every 3 Venezuelans are enrolled in some educational program. [ii] . It is also a great achievement that Venezuela is now tied with Finland as the 5th happiest country in the world [iii] .
Before the Chavez government in 1998, 21% of the population was malnourished. Venezuela now has established a network of subsidized food distribution including grocery stores and supermarkets. While 90% of the food was imported in 1980, today this is less than 30%. Misión Agro-Venezuela has given out 454,238 credits to rural producers and 39,000 rural producers have received credit in 2012 alone. Five million Venezuelan receive free food, four million of them are children in schools and 6,000 food kitchens feed 900,000 people. The agrarian reform and policies to help agricultural producers have increased domestic food supply. The results of all these food security measures is that today malnourishment is only 5%, and child malnutrition which was 7.7% in 1990 today is at 2.9%. This is an impressive health achievement by any standard.
Some of the most important available data on health care and public health are the following [iv], [v], [vi]:
*infant mortality dropped from 25 per 1000 (1990) to only 13/1000 (2010);
*An outstanding 96% of the population now has access to clean water (one of the goals of the revolution);
*In 1998, there were 18 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, currently there are 58, and the public health system has about 95,000 physicians;
*It took four decades for previous governments to build 5,081 clinics, but in just 13 years the Bolivarian government built 13,721 (a 169.6% increase);
*Barrio Adentro (i.e., primary care program with the help of more than 8,300 Cuban doctors) has saved approximately 1.4 million lives in 7,000 clinics and has given 500 million consultations;
*In 2011 alone, 67,000 Venezuelans received free high cost medicines for 139 pathological conditions including cancer, hepatitis, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, and others; there are now 34 centers for addictions,
*In 6 years 19,840 homeless have been assisted through a special program; and there are practically no children living on the streets.
*Venezuela now has the largest intensive care unit in the region.
*A network of public drugstores sell subsidized medicines in 127 stores with savings of 34-40%.
*51,000 people have been treated in Cuba for specialized eye treatment and the eye care program “Mision Milagro”; has restored sight to 1.5 million Venezuelans.
An example of how the government has tried to respond in a timely fashion to the real needs of its people is the situation that occurred in 2011 when heavy tropical rains left 100,000 people homeless. They were immediately sheltered temporarily in all manner of public buildings and hotels and, in one and a half years, the government built 250,000 houses. The government has obviously not eradicated all social ills, but its people do recognize that, despite any shortcomings and mistakes, it is a government that is on their side, trying to use its resources to meet their needs. Part of this equation is the intense political participation that the Venezuelan democracy stands for, that includes 30,000 communal councils, which determine local social needs and oversee their satisfaction and allows the people to be protagonists of the changes they demand.[vii]
The Venezuelan economy has low debts, high petroleum reserves and high savings, yet Western economists that oppose President Chávez repeat ad nauseam that the Venezuelan economy is not “sustainable” and predict its demise when the oil revenues stop. Ironically they do not hurl these dire predictions to other oil economies such as Canada or Saudi Arabia. They conveniently ignore that Venezuela’s oil reserves of 500 billion barrels of oil is the largest in the world and consider the social investment of oil revenues a waste or futile endeavor. However, these past 13 years, the Bolivarian government has been building up an industrial and agricultural infrastructure that 40 years of previous governments had neglected and its economy continues to get stronger even in the face of a global financial crisis.
An indication of the increasing diversification of the economy is the fact that the State now obtains almost as much revenue from tax collection as from the sale of oil, since it strengthened its capacity for tax collection and wealth redistribution.
Economic milestones these last ten years include reduction in unemployment from 11.3% to 7.7%; doubling the number of people receiving social insurance benefits, and the flourishing of cooperatives has strengthened local endogenous economies. In general, the Venezuelan economy has grown 47.4% in ten years, that is, 4.3% per annum. [viii].
Today many European countries would look jealously at these figures. Economists who studied the Venezuelan economy in detail for years indicate that, “The predictions of economic collapse, balance of payments or debt crises and other gloomy prognostications, as well as many economic forecasts along the way, have repeatedly proven wrong… Venezuela’s current economic growth is sustainable and could continue at the current pace or higher for many years.” [ix] .
According to Global Finance and the CIA World Factbook, the Venezuelan economy presents the following indicators [x]: unemployment rate of 8%; 45.5% government (public) debt as a percent of GDP (by contrast the European Union debt/GDP is 82.5%); and a real GDP growth: GDP per capita is $13,070.
In 2011, the Venezuelan economy defied most forecasts by growing 4.2 percent, and was up 5.6 percent in the first half of 2012. It has a debt-to-GDP ratio comfortably below the U.S. and the UK, and stronger than European countries; an inflation rate, an endemic problem during many decades, that has fallen to a four-year low, or 13.7%, over the most recent 2012 quarter. Even The Wall Street Journal reports that Venezuela’s stock exchange is by far the best-performing stock market in the world, reaching an all-time high in October 2012, and Venezuela’s bonds are some of the best performers in emerging markets.
Hugo Chavez’s victory had an impact around the world as he is recognized as having spearheaded radical change not only in his own country but in all Latin America where progressive governments have also been elected, thereby reshaping the global order. The victory was even more significant considering the enormous financial and strategic help that the USA agencies and allies gave to the opposition parties and media. Since 2002, Washington channeled $100 million to opposition groups in Venezuela and this election year alone, distributed US$ 40-50 million there. [xi] But the Venezuelan people disregarded the barrage of propaganda unleashed against the president by the media that is 95% privately owned and anti-Chavez. [xii]. The tide of progressive change in the region has started to build the infrastructure for the first truly independent South America with political integration organizations such as Bank of the South, CELAC, ALBA, PETROSUR, PETROCARIBE, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, TELESUR and thus have demonstrated to the rest of the world that there are, after all, economic and social alternatives in the 21st century [xiii]. Following a different model of development from that of global capitalism in sharp contrast to Europe, debt levels across Latin America are low and falling.
The changes in Venezuela are not abstract. The government of President Chávez has significantly improved the living conditions of Venezuelans and engaged them in dynamic political participation to achieve it [xiv]. This new model of socialist development has had a phenomenal impact all over Latin America, including Colombia of late, and the progressive left of center governments that are now the majority in the region see in Venezuela the catalyst that that has brought more democracy, national sovereignty and economic and social progress to the region [xv]. No amount of neoliberal rhetoric can dispute these facts. Dozens of opinionated experts can go on forever on whether the Bolivarian Revolution is or is not socialist, whether it is revolutionary or reformist (it is likely to be both ), yet at the end of the day these substantial achievements remain. This is what infuriates its opponents the most both inside Venezuela and most notably, from neocolonialist countries. The “objective” and “empiricist” The Economist will not publicize this data, preferring to predict once again the imminent collapse of the Venezuelan economy and El Pais, in Spain, would rather have one of the architects of the Caracazo (the slaughter of 3000 people in Caracas protesting the austerity measures of 1989), the minister of finance of the former government Moises Naim, go on with his anti-Chávez obsession. But none of them can dispute that the UN Human Development Index situates Venezuela in place #61 out of 176 countries having increased 7 places in 10 years.
And that is one more reason why Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution will survive Venezuela’s Socialist leader.
Carles Muntaner is Professor of Nursing, Public Health and Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He has been working on the public health aspects of the Bolivarian Revolution for more than a decade including Muntaner C, Chung H, Mahmood Q and Armada F. “History Is Not Over. The Bolivarian Revolution, Barrio Adentro and Health Care in Venezuela.” In T Ponniah and J Eastwood The Revolution in Venezuela. Harvard: HUP, 2011
María Páez Victor is a Venezuelan sociologist, specializing in health and medicine.
Joan Benach is a professor of Public Health at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. He has collaborated in a number of studies on the public health policies of the Bolivarian Revolution.
[i] Páez Victor, Maria. “Why Do Venezuelan Women Vote for Chavez?” Counterpunch, 24 April 2012
[ii] Venezuela en Noticias, Venezuela en Noticias <firstname.lastname@example.org> Venezuela en Noticias, Venezuela en Noticias email@example.com
[iii] Gallup Poll 2010
[iv] Muntaner C, Chung H, Mahmood Q and Armada F. “History Is Not Over. The Bolivarian Revolution, Barrio Adentro and Health Care in Venezuela.” In T Ponniah and J Eastwood The Revolution in Venezuela. Harvard: HUP, 2011 pp 225-256; see also 4, Muntaner et al 2011, 5, Armada et al 2009; 6, Zakrison et al 2012
[v] Armada, F., Muntaner, C., & Navarro, V. (2001). “Health and social security reforms in Latin America: The convergence of the world health organization, the world bank, and transnational corporations.” International Journal of Health Services, 31(4), 729-768.
[vi] Zakrison TL, Armada F, Rai N, Muntaner C. ”The politics of avoidable blindness in Latin America–surgery, solidarity, and solutions: the case of Misión Milagro.”Int J Health Serv. 2012;42(3):425-37.
[vii] Ismi, Asad. “The Bolivarian Revolution Gives Real Power to the People.” The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor , December 2009/January.http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/latin-american-revolution-part-iv
[viii] Carmona, Adrián. “Algunos datos sobre Venezuela”, Rebelión, March 2012
[ix] Weisbrot, Mark and Johnston, Jake. “Venezuela’s Economic Recovery: Is It Sustainable?” Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, D.C., September 2012.
[x] Hunziker , Robert. “Venezuela and the Wonders of Equality”. October 15th, 2012
[xi] Golinger, Eva. “US$20 million for the Venezuelan Opposition in 2012”, http://www.chavezcode.com/2011/08/us-20-million-for-venezuelan-opposition.html
[xii] Páez Victor, Maria. “Chavez wins Over Powerful Foreign Conglomerate Against Him”, Periódico América Latina, 11 October, 2012
[xiii] Milne, Seumas. “The Chávez Victory Will be Felt Far Beyond Latin America” , Associate Editor, The Guardian, October 9, 2012:
[xiv] Alvarado, Carlos, César Arismendi, Francisco Armada, Gustavo Bergonzoli, Radamés Borroto, Pedro Luis Castellanos, Arachu Castro, Pablo Feal, José Manuel García, Renato d´A. Gusmão, Silvino Hernández, María Esperanza Martínez, Edgar Medina, Wolfram Metzger, Carles Muntaner, Aldo Muñoz, Standard Núñez, Juan Carlos Pérez, and Sarai Vivas. 2006. “Mission Barrio Adentro: The Right to Health and Social Inclusion in Venezuela”. Caracas: PAHO/Venezuela.
[xv] Weisbrot, Mark.”Why Chávez Was Re-elected”. New York Times. Oct 10th 2012
- Does Hugo Chavez Keep Fooling Venezuelans? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
By Patrick J. O’Donoghue | VHeadline | February 22, 2010
President Chavez said on Sunday that the peasant militia is part of the Bolivarian Armed Force (FANB) and therefore, a legitimate force, which will neither undermine the FANB or supplant it.
“The peasant militia incarnates today a transcendent principle: the defense of land and against an eventual aggressor.”
The militias, he hinted, will act as a deterrent for domestic aggressors, who have been acting with complete impunity.
Last week, peasant militias took part in military training exercises in El Pao (Cojedes) watched by Agriculture & Lands (MAT) Minister Elias Jaua, who himself dressed in military fatigues. It is not clear whether he has a rank in the militia or indeed took part in the exercises himself but Jaua has been at the fore in setting up militias within the different branches of the Venezuelan Agriculture Corporation (CVA).
To tell the truth, the fact that militias have joined regular army patrols on recovered farms has been a deterrent to possible acts of sabotage and vengeance on the part of the ousted landowners.
The Minister stated that the government has the political will to to see the Constitution and the FANB law implemented to the full.
Defense Minister General Mara Figuera calculates around 2,500 militia members in the FANB reserve force.
The exercises in El Pao, Chavez wrote in his Line Drives column, are just the “first sample of the development of a popular armed force to safeguard our integrity and sovereignty in the Venezuelan countryside.”
The President reminded readers that since the law came into force in 200, the landed oligarchy adopted a violent agenda against land recoveries that saw the death and assassination of around 300 peasant leaders.
The government is determined to protect peasants by all means at its disposal. The militia, Chavez reiterated, is part and parcel of the Armed Force and not a paramilitary force as opposition analysts try to claim comparing them to the Colombian experience.
Making things clearer, the President said the Bolivarian militia and the communal councils are expressions of the new Communal State and structures being built.
The militia was reorganized after the Armed Force reform bill was passed on October 22, 2009.
Patrick J. O’Donoghue