:: Friday, October 17, 2003 ::

Road to Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez

Tommy Sheridan to meet President Chavez of Venezuela The Scotsman

Venezuela Dreaming: Tommy Sheridan on his Venezuela trip Scottish Socialist Voice

SSP leader Tommy Sheridan has been invited to travel to Venezuela to meet President Hugo Chavez.

The visit has provoked some discussion in the SSP and elsewhere on the left, although the right-wing parties have been surprisingly quiet. From some there have been the usual kneejerk responses to the situation in Venezuela along the lines of "my sect doesn't have a section in Venezuela, therefore there can never be socialist change there."

There have been a few articles in Frontline (here with a response here and another here) giving different perpectives on developments in Venezuela and there will be another in the next issue. There was also an excellent piece in a recent International Viewpoint and this report at the In Defence of Marxism is also interesting.

Firstly I'm not sure that Chavez himself would describe himself as a socialist, on the other hand Tony Blair would describe himself as a socialist on rare occassions, so maybe actions speak louder than words. He is certainly a Bolivarian, a radical anti-imperialist with a vision of uniting Latin America. Under Venezuela's new constitution it is known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Support for Chavez is expressed through the Bolivarian circles which mobilise the poor. Venezuela is a potentially immensely rich country with incredible reserves of oil and other natural resources. It is also a country with huge disparities of income. Inequality is a central problem in Venezuela with slums and shanty towns side by side with huge air-conditioned shopping malls in the big cities.

Around 70% of Venezuelans belong to the "marginal class" who live in poverty with no secure jobs. This is the layer who Chavez has appealed to and mobilised.

There have been criticisms of Chavez' inability to substantially change the position of the poor. However Chavez is not a dictator. He does not run the country single-handedly in the tradition of the latin-american Caudillo. He faces opposition from the Venezuelan ruling class at all levels. They control key positions in the oil industry and the judiciary. They also have powerful elected political positions in many regions. And above all the opposition of US imperialism couldn't be clearer with constant undermining of the government. They are desperate to get rid of Chavez as two coup attempts and a reactionary general strike have shown.

It was the mobilisation of the poor which was the key factor in the defence of Venezuelan democracy and the Chavez presidency. It is absolutely blind not to recognise this. The army watched which way it was going. They would not have defended Chavez if the masses were not with him.

Now that the economy has begun to recover from the bosses strike Chavez is taking serious anti-poverty measures.

This report is from Americas Business News:

"The highly publicized programs, including literacy and urban health-care initiatives backed by the Cuban government, appear to be paying off. A September poll by the respected Datanalysis firm showed a jump to 36% from 31% in Mr. Chavez's popularity over August. "The government is throwing a lot of money into the street," says Andres Duarte, a food importer. "It's beginning to percolate down the system, especially with food subsidies. There's no question it's working on Chavez's behalf."

Recently authorized expenditures include 80 billion bolivars ($50 million) for an adult-literacy campaign and 164 billion bolivars for health clinics and hospitals.

"It's a big help to buy cheap food like rice, corn flour and sugar," says Barbrina Bastarda, 23 years old, a student in the sprawling western Caracas working-class zone called 23 de Enero, or January 23, after the date on which a dictatorship was overthrown in 1958. Ms. Bastarda says she also recently got help in the form of a free eye examination from doctors at a mobile clinic after she complained of headaches. "They sent me to a place where I bought very low-cost glasses," she says."

(Hey is that the Cubans giving foreign aid to Venezuela? But I'm always being told they are socialism in one country Stalinists! Cuba has sent 5000 doctors to work in Venezuelan "barrios" - poor neighbourhoods.)

The latest literacy program is aimed specifically at the urban poor and rural and indigenous peoples. Interestingly it will include all of Venezuela's indigenous languages and not just Spanish.

There has been a new decree from the Venezuelan government making redundancy illegal and Chavez has encouraged workers to seize their factories if the bosses try to ignore it. The government banned the common corrupt practice of charging students in state schools and called on parents and students to occupy schools which do not comply.

The government has undertaken extensive land reform and campesinos have occupied land in often bloody clashes with landowners, despite having the law on their side. The land reforms so far only make a scratch in the problem of land distribution, redistributing unused land, but still have been violently opposed by the landowners. One of the first things the short-lived US-backed coup government of April 2002 did was to annul the land law.

Since the coup attempt in April 2002 millions of Venezuelans have organised themselves into dynamic mass organisations including land committees, militant trade unions, neighbourhood committees and Bolivarian groups, in order to defend the gains made in Venezuela. They have acted independently and militantly to defend these gains. (Check out some recent occupations, strikes and mobilisations at this Venezuelan leftist site.)

US Imperialism cannot accept 'people power' in Venezuela which could provide a centre of opposition to their rule in Latin America. There is growing discontent in Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia not to mention the existence of the left governments in Cuba and Brazil. There is no doubt that Bush and co will step up their attempts to bring down Chavez.

Tommy couldn't have picked a better time to go to Venezuela and I look forward to hearing his report back.

:: Alister | 3:54 pm | save this page to del.icio.us Save This Page | permalink⊕ | |


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