Venezuelan Reflections on Peace in Colombia

Venezuela takes steps to make peace a reality

by Jeanette Charles

Oct 6 - Entire peoples and movements committed to peace, regional integration and solidarity across the Americas undeniably anticipated that Sunday’s plebiscite would reinforce the Peace Accords marking a new era for Colombia and the hemisphere.

However, the 37.28 percent of Colombians who participated in Sunday’s elections decided against the recently signed Peace Accords between the Santos government and the FARC with less than one percent margin of difference, approximately 70,000 votes. The decision ultimately halted what was days before a celebratory result of carefully facilitated negotiations over four years.

Venezuela's Historic Role to Consolidate a Path Toward Peace

Venezuela has served as one of the main promoters and active facilitators in the Colombian peace process. Venezuelan and Colombian history is as inseparable and interwoven as their future. Former President Hugo Chávez tirelessly advocated for peace in Colombia and by extension, the Americas.
As the peace accords were signed on September 27 in Cartagena, President Nicolás Maduro emphasized that Chavez “managed to build the confidence necessary to start negotiations which culminated in the signing of the peace agreement in Cartagena.” Likewise, the FARC’s top negotiator Timochenko as well as Colombian Senator Iván Cepeda for the Democratic Pole have both acknowledged and expressed gratitude for Venezuela’s role in the Colombian peace process.

Why is Venezuela so committed to peace in Colombia? Arguably, following Colombians themselves, Venezuelans have witnessed firsthand the brutal reality of their bordering nation’s civil war. Five decades of right wing sponsored violence has relentlessly responded to and served US anti-communist campaigns as well as US economic and political interests.


People paint murals in Columbia expressing desire for peace

Greater militarization by both state and non-state actors as well as neoliberal privatization are direct manifestations of the War on Drugs and Plan Colombia. As a direct result, Venezuela is home to more than five million displaced Colombians and countless more descendants.

Peace for Colombia and for Latin America as a whole remains an unfulfilled promise to the millions displaced disappeared and assassinated over five decades of violence. However, grassroots movements of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), an integrationist platform born of former Venezuelan President Chávez’s legacy, have expressed time and time again an unwavering commitment to peace for Colombians and by extension Latin America and the Caribbean.

As such, Venezuelans understand more than anyone else that while Sunday’s elections were presented to a certain extent by the Colombian government and certainly by the Colombian elite as the people’s “final” say on peace, the elections actually imply and serve greater political as well as economic interests than those presented publicly at the negotiation table.

Additionally, as President Maduro emphasized, “War or peace in Colombia directly affects the life of our people.”

Venezuelan Grassroots Reactions to Sunday's Results

Venezuelans felt the emotional ripple effect of Colombia's electoral outcome and drew uncertainty from its political implications. From informal conversations with friends and colleagues to reading immediate reactions on social media, it became increasingly apparent how many Venezuelans considered the Colombian peace process an integral part of their own revolutionary process.

Venezuelans expressed their rage as well as disappointment with an electoral process seemingly set up to unfavor the Colombian people. Moreover, they voiced their doubts regarding Colombian politicians' real or absent intentions to work toward peace.


President Mauduro and President Santos talk peace

"What were their [the government's] real motives?" "was this all just a show meant to disarm the guerrillas?" "why were the elections necessary in the first place?" were among some of the questions spoken by Venezuelans following the elections. Never once, did I find someone who blamed the Colombian people despite an easy and simple way to assess the situation given how contemporary indicators to validate a democracy almost exlusively rest on elections regardless of historical participation or outcome.

Ahead of Sunday’s elections María Gabriela Del Pilar Blanco, a Venezuelan organizer from Higuerote, Miranda expressed her enthusiastic support for Colombia’s peace accords. “There are millions of Colombians in Venezuela. My organization works closely with many Colombians. We wholeheartedly support peace in Colombia, we ourselves are a peaceful people and promote peace internationally,” she said Sunday to a group of Central American immigrants in Los Angeles, California largely aligned with Salvadoran, Nicaraguan and Honduran resistance movements.

Once Blanco heard Sunday’s results, she pointedly questioned the disparity in voter turnout and questioned international oversight of “democracy” in Colombia. “I wonder about the international electoral observation that happened during Colombia’s elections on Sunday. When we have elections in Venezuela, hundreds of people come to observe from the U.N. to Unasur to solidarity groups. What have they said? What did they observe on Sunday’s elections?”

Hurricane Matthew prevented significant voting

According to Colombia Reports, more than 2000 electoral observers were dispatched to cover and document Sunday’s elections. The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) reported that: “the rains caused by Hurricane Matthew prevented the potential votes of four million Colombians”, “only 61 percent of the tables had the polling jury assigned to them at the time of the opening of polling centers”, “five complaints of alleged fraud or corruption were received” and “one citizen carrying 17 voting cards for the plebiscite” among other observations.

Undoubtedly, had these observations been made during any election in Venezuela not to mention during any stage of the controversial recall referendum, corporate media and international powers at be would have immediately called for intervention and “justice”.


Pres. Raul Castro seals hand shaker between with Santos and FARC

Katherine Castrillo, Venezuela of Colombian descent and writer with grassroots Venezuelan publication Cultura Nuestra (Our Culture) expressed in her article, “Why Did NO Win in Colombia?” that we must scratch beyond the surface of Sunday’s decision. “It is useless and superficial to think that the Colombian people have only suffered from a war between the army, guerrillas and paramilitaries over the last 50 years,” she wrote.

Rather, Castrillo continued, “land theft, bipartisan hegemony, oligopolies, media monopoly, social control, criminalization of popular movements, U.S. military bases, the largest drug export industry, the majority rejection of state policies such as daily bread tainted the credibility of a bilateral ceasefire."

Yet, in regions such as Chocó, Cauca, Putumayo, Nariño and others most afflicted by the conflict, Colombians resoundingly supported YES. In these corners of Colombia, people were not fooled or dissuaded by any of the peace opposing forces Castrillo highlighted. With these communities, there is most certainly a chance to build peace with or without a legally binding document.

Colombians, perhaps discouraged by Sunday’s vote, should find solace and solidarity with the Venezuelan people resolved to end not just five decades but five centuries of colonially driven strife in the Americas.

Bolivarian Process Looks Ahead

Despite a crushing sense of defeat, the Bolivarian government and President Maduro have publicly voiced their support to uphold the accords and to accompany the Colombian people.

“We have been great accompaniers and promoters of the Peace Accords in Colombia,” conveyed President Maduro. “I am ready, President Santos, [and] to all the Colombian guerrilla forces, to continue supporting peace in Colombia with humility, perseverance and love,” he continued.

Maduro’s stressed the ways in which an electoral outcome does not represent a definitive NO. If anything, Venezuelans can understand the deep sense of disappointment after an unexpected electoral defeat especially following the opposition’s National Assembly win which was similarly a result of great abstention and right-wing propaganda.

“Colombia had an electoral slip-up, just as we did on December 6th, but just like this electoral hiccup, peace is irreversible,” Maduro framed. Similarly, he outed the position of Venezuela’s right-wing elite class for supporting war in Colombia, “we cannot understand those that want more war in Colombia.”

Rightfully so, the Colombian and Venezuelan right-wing elite have shamelessly benefitted from wreaking havoc and sponsoring war. For instance, Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian government alike have publicly denounced former President Alvaro Uribe for his ties to funding and training paramilitaries in Venezuela.


Peace talks negotiated in Cuba

Before Sunday's elections, Maduro expressed his expectations for what peace could mean for improved relations between Colombia and Venezuela. "I am sure that peace will bring to Colombia a new era of happiness and brotherly relations with Venezuela," he stated.

It is undeniable that the Colombian people have been tasked with inflating their tested morale and defining peace on their own terms.

Venezuelans, like other Latin American and Caribbean nations, will inevitably accompany whatever process will continue following this week’s decision. History has proven as much.

The majority poor, Black, Indigenous, women and youth in Colombia and Our America face an onslaught waged by an oligarchy resolved to dismantle the last two decades of integrationist efforts in order to reinstate U.S. dominance in the region. The stakes run high.

And while Colombia continues to forge a path toward peace, Venezuelans nearby take steps to accompany this purposeful journey to make peace a reality.

International solidarity needed for defence of Bolivarian revolution

Is Venezuela on the Verge of a Another Coup?
by Jeanetter Charles

Current events in Venezuela and the political opposition’s call for global protests against President Maduro conjure memories of the 2002 coup d’état - a moment marked by violence all too familiar for most Venezuelans. The opposition’s public call for national and international protests slated for September 1st accompanied by transportation strikes in some of the nation’s opposition strongholds along with rising inaccessibility to most basic staples also indicate strong possibilities for rampant guarimba violence reminiscent of the 2014 opposition demonstrations. So it would seem, a potential coup d’état is in progress.


Yet, what are the real possibilities? What are grassroots movements and others aligned with the Bolivarian process saying about the opposition’s upcoming demonstrations? What are the strategies in place? And, more importantly, how are the grassroots preparing to respond come September 1st?

2016 Opposition Protests and their Political Backdrop

This week’s protests center on the Venezuelan opposition’s insistent demand for a recall referendum to occur this year. This is not the first time Venezuela has faced a potential presidential impeachment. As teleSUR English’s Iain Bruce reports, “On August 15, 2004, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, faced his opponents in the first and only recall referendum against a sitting president in modern world history. The opposition parties were confident they would win. They assumed they would naturally recover the positions of power they had lost.” However, Venezuelan history proved otherwise and Chávez remained in office, securing a majority.

Since the people’s election of Chávez in 1998, the Bolivarian Revolution has marked a distinct transition away from an oligarchy that has historically siphoned oil and resources from the people devastating Venezuela’s majority poor nation. Over the last 17 years, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Process has made major strides in inclusionary rights, economic access and political consciousness raising domestically and on an international scale.
However, the opposition, actively supported by the United States, continues to strategize against the Bolivarian process which has radically transformed people’s material conditions and improved the majority poor’s livelihood.

On repeated occasions, the opposition has illegitimately pushed for the recall referendum to happen this year. Yet, National Electoral Council (CNE) President Tibisay Lucena publicly announced earlier this month that according to constitutionally established timelines, the recall referendum will not happenbefore January 2017. This is due to the opposition consciously beginning the process too late for all the steps to be completed this year.
Nonetheless, the opposition has found support of right-wing factions throughout the region such was the case earlier this month when 15 out of 35 OAS membersreleased a joint statement calling for the Venezuelan government to carry out what would be an unconstitutional referendum process before January 2017.

We’ve witnessed this same tactic over and over again. The battle to deligitimize Venezuela, allege that the country is breaching its constitution and highlight its challenges both economic and political are seemingly never-ending in the political arena and in corporate media. To a certain extent, the opposition has also successfully confused millions internationally about the diverse realities facing most Venezuelans.



The economic lead-up to this 2016 call for protests parallels the April 2002 coup. Just last week opposition legislator Freddy Guevara admitted that the opposition had used an "economic boycott" to force the government out. Moreover, he vowed that opposition would reach "Miraflores Palace" on September 1st, just as they did in 2002 when the opposition suddenly diverged from its pre-determined route and decided to march to Miraflores resulting in a direct confrontation between the right-wing opposition and Venezuelan popular forces.

Among the opposition's other tactics have included a campaign to prevent the country from assuming Mercosur’s pro tempore presidency. Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodríguez along with grassroots movements aligned with the Mercosur process have denounced the continued refusal to transfer power over to Venezuela without grounds.

While international reports may seemingly paint a picture of disaster across the Latin American left and especially of more progressive governments, the continued efforts to destabilize Venezuela indicate that US imperialism is re-positioning itself in the region and returning to relationships with historic right-wing allies.

With this said, the direct hand of the US government in these destabilization attempts against Venezuela remains evermore present. One can look to the sanctions that were renewed in April this year as a prime example.

Furthermore, Venezuelan Foreign Ministry’s North American agency released a statement this Monday that renounced the US State Department spokesperson John Kirby’s call to release former mayor of San Criśtobal, Táchira state, Daniel Ceballos from prisoner.

Ceballos was transferred to prison after spending time under house arrest for his role in the 2014 guarimbas. The Ministry of Justice asserted that this week's transfer was made after recent information surfaced of Ceballos’ potential escape plans to “coordinate acts of violence” this week.

"The brand and authorship of the coup being planned for September 1, 2016, in Venezuela, in collusion with the anti-democratic opposition and international right, has become clear...," read the statement. It continued, "[President Barack Obama's government] is seeking to destabilize Venezuela and the region in its final days to legitimize its imperial plans against peace and the development of the people."

Likewise, US prize winning opposition spokesperson Yon Goicoecha was also arrested this week for the alleged possession of explosives equipment.

Voices from the Bolivarian Process

While there is more than enough evidence to suggest a coup may indeed already be in the works for Venezuela in the near future, a wide range of opinions and actions characterize Venezuelan public opinion regarding the opposition’s latest call for protests.

For example, the government has taken steps to prevent violence such as prohibiting drones from entering into Venezuelan airspace for the next 120 days unless sanctioned by the Defense Ministry. Many private businesses are also closing their doors amidst security concerns.


Meanwhile, grassroots spaces such as community councils and local media outlets have called for marches in support of the Bolivarian Process starting Tuesday August 30th as well as reminding people to have non-confrontational behavior on September 1st to avoid any possible bloodshed.

For example, the Bicentennial Women’s Front convened “a great mobilization in defense of the revolution...we will demonstrate that we are the guardians of Chavez and the Revolution.”

In an exclusive with Venezuelanalysis, María Helena Ramírez, student organizer and resident of San Crístobal, Táchira state, stressed that during the September 1st demonstrations despite the opposition’s alleged call for “peace”, “some right wing spokespeople have remarked that ‘there will be deaths’ and ‘blood will run’ in public interviews.”

Ramírez also commented on the opposition’s strategic use of transportation highlighting that, “there will be buses leaving many regions of the country toward Caracas. This is a very interesting strategy given that Chavista social movements have mobilized across the country to march in the capital for years and the opposition historically has not.” The opposition most certainly counts on selling the impression internationally that their political position has a consolidated and unified base.


Likewise, in Táchira, Ramírez confirmed reports that there has been a transportation strike announced for nine days meant to interrupt and complicate citizens’ daily lives contributing to heightened levels of frustration and concern. Similarly, this last weekend when current opposition National Assembly leader Ramos Allup visited Táchira, people found tire road blocks in the same places that were strongholds for the 2014 guarimbas.

Ramírez suspects that, “what we are seeing is the beginning of an attack against Venezuela meant to push the people to the limit and carry out a coup.” However, Ramírez emphasized that the grassroots along with the Bolivarian government have committed to “protecting the people of Venezuela, especially in Caracas, and the Bolviarian Revolution.”

José Vicente Rangel, long time comrade of former President Hugo Chávez who also served as Minister during his administration, publicly expressed similar concerns over the September 1st marches in Venezuelan media - distinctively drawing parallels to the prelude of the 2002 coup. “In the time of a tense climate, this march could have very grave consequences. Any detail can be explosive and although the same promoters [of this march] insist that it will be civil in character, [our] experience proves otherwise,” Rangel suggests.

“As the march can occur in all normalcy, it can also repeat the brutal experience of April 11, 2002 march and other episodes of violence like the guarimbas, we must put forth with urgency: dialogue,” he continued, of which he stated 80 percent of Venezuela’s population favors.

“There are factions intent on creating a chaotic situation and provoking the rupture of constitutional and democratic order, as well as foreign interventionist adventures that would severely affect our national sovereignty. The opposition that exists in this country seems bent on disaster and total institutional rupture to facilitate [their] access to power; apparently all other options, except violence, are blocked,” Rangel stressed.
It is not without saying that President Maduro also conveyed similar concerns at a rally this weekend and denounced what he called a “an imperialist attack on all.” Maduro cited ongoing US interference and right-wing assaults against the governments of Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador among other examples.


However, there are dissenting opinions. These reflections rest on the unforgotten ingenuity of the Venezuelan people to defy all odds and prevail against an avalanche of uncertainty.

In his recent publication “The Takeover of the Cities and Power (and the Desire to Take-Over)”, Venezuelan public intellectual and historian José Roberto Duque explains why he believes September 1st will be another unsuccessful opposition attempt to destabilize the nation.

Principally, Duque suggests that very few historical cases exist that show “rebellions” have led to drastic societal shifts and that these oppositions marches will not be among these examples.

“The only mobilizations of this historical time that have toppled governments or at the very least have shaken [them] include: 1) sudden and spontaneous [rebellions] (Venezuela, 1989); 2) [rebellions] directed, defined and inspired by genuine leaders (Venezuela, 1998); or 3) [rebellions] headed or financed by the international war machine (Libya, 2011),” he attests.

Additionally, Duque outlines that due to the opposition’s absent effort to build a consolidated base, combined with the Venezuelan Chavista population’s will to rectify the errors of the revolutionary process, while there may be a series of violent episodes across the country - nothing will mark a definitive “exit” to Maduro’s administration.

“Maybe blood will be spilt in some places, maybe they try and prolong for a few days the media sensation of a rebellion (the cameras and audiovisual production are ready, count on that),” Duque writes. However, he continues, “And perhaps from our side, from the side building this country, we will probably forget the arguments and demobilizing divides, and maybe we will remember in unison that the Revolution charges us with an important task, parallel or previous to all the others: avoid at all costs that the transnational corporation’s racist plague take ahold of the institutional management of the State.”

He concludes, “If this is the result, we will have obtained another political victory as others walk around announcing our decisive defeat.”
What about international solidarity?

While we’ve assessed an array of hypothesis regarding Venezuela’s future, time is the truest test. While one may argue that it would be foolish for the opposition to carry through a coup at this time, when they are relatively close to securing a recall referendum for early next year, we have seen how often the opposition is prone to bouts of sabotage and violence at the expense of people’s stability and lives.

However, in the process of writing this piece, what remains blaringly clear is the incredible need for international grassroots movements to re-engage with Venezuela and develop a renewed sense of commitment with the Bolivarian Process. Hypothesizing serves us little in the larger scheme of Venezuela’s future.

The growing divide between the Venezuelan grassroots and global left is not only discouraging but systematically intentional.

The international media barrage with all its exaggerations, misleading headlines and largely unfounded coverage has been critical to building one of the greatest imperialist and interventionist offensives in Latin America and the Caribbean. A similar case in this hemisphere may only be said for the historically racist isolation of Haiti and the distance between the global left and the popular movements carrying on more than 200 years of revolutionary process on the island.



As the impeachment process in Brazil against Dilma Rousseff is underway, it’s necessary to redraw our shared political lines to defend Venezuelan, Latin American and ultimately oppressed nations’ sovereignty and defeat capitalism’s steadfast determination to persevere no matter what.

What the world needs is for Venezuelans to face this trying time head on and win. A coup for Venezuela would mark what promises to be an already challenging era for our political generation as this chapter of great revolutionary fiesta winds down and we are charged with the real task of building other worlds different than our present.

Venezuelans already embarked on a path to achieve the nearly impossible. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to identify, create and consolidate viable economic alternatives as well as cultural and structural shifts in society. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to decolonize and undo over 500 years of imperialism, colonization and devastation.

International solidarity needs to be ready on September 1st to accompany the Venezuelan people and defend their revolutionary process.
Reprinted from https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/12257

Venezuelan Opposition unlikely to secure recall referendum fefore year's end

Venezuela as an oppressive failed state is really very far from what's happening on the ground

Real News interview by Sharmini Peries with Steve Ellner

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Earlier this week, Venezuela's national electoral council, known as the CNE, announced that the presidential recall referendum will be proceeding to the next phase, and outlined a timeline for the rest of the process. According to the electoral authority, the next step is to collect 20 percent of the registered voters' signatures in three days. This process can now take place in late October, meaning that if it is successful, a recall referendum won't happen until three months later in late January. According to Venezuela's constitution, if the recall happens after January 10 in the last two months of the president's term, this means that the vice president, someone whom the current president Maduro appointed, would take over as president.

Joining us now to discuss the situation in Venezuela is Steve Ellner. Steve has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz in Venezuela since 1977. He's the author and editor of a number of books on Venezuela, and the most recent, Latin America's Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power. He joins us today from Barcelona, Venezuela. Steve, so good to have you with us.

STEVE ELLNER: Good to be on the program.

PERIES: So finally the national electoral council outlined the timeline for the recall referendum, and dashed the opposition's hopes that it might still take place within the year in order to hold a presidential election before the last two years of the president's term. What has the opposition's reaction been to the CNE's declaration?

ELLNER: Well, the opposition claims that the procedure for the recall, the requirements for the 20 percent of the registered vote, vote signatures, that it is feasible to carry out the process in the course of this year. That it isn't necessary to wait until next year. And the difference is very important, because if the recall election is held after January 10, then if Maduro loses that recall, then he will step down and the vice president, Aristobulo Isturiz, will become president for the rest of the term, the two years that remains in the presidential term, so that the opposition will not have the option of being able to come to power in these next two years.

The Chavistas state that the opposition made a mistake, that they didn't concentrate on the effort, on the recall effort. They didn't collect the votes that they needed to initiate the process until three months after the beginning of the year, until late March. They waited because they themselves were divided. There were currents in the opposition that didn't want to have anything to do with the recall, and they favored other courses of action, so that as a result of divisions within the opposition and as a result of some errors in collecting those signatures, the 1 percent that they collected that initiated the process, as a result this whole process has been held up.

PERIES: Right. And government is also saying that the petition for the recall was submitted too late, and this petition also included countless forged signatures. What is your interpretation of what actually happened?



ELLNER: You know, you talk about Cabello, who's really the second key person in Chavista government, in Chavista command, stated the other day that the Chavistas don't want the recall to take place this year. That is their position. Of course, that really isn't any secret. It's obvious that they don't want it. And they have the right to insist on a close revision of the signatures that have been collected, because as you've mentioned, there are so many irregularities. For instance, there were over 10,000 signatures of deceased people.

There were several thousand signatures of people who are underage, and therefore cannot vote, and their signature does not count. There were a number of signatures of prisoners, when in fact there was no collection of signatures within the jail system in Venezuela.

So because of these mistakes on the part of the opposition, Diosdado Cabello stated, well, the Chavistas are just taking advantage of the situation. They are insisting on something that they have a right to insist on, and that is that these signatures be reviewed and that that in itself is slowing down the process. And as you mentioned, the opposition did wait too long in order to initiate the process. Instead of doing it at the beginning of the year, on January 1, they waited three months. And as a result, there just isn't enough time this year for that recall election to be held.



PERIES: And now on top of all the internal strife that's going on, 15 countries of the Organization of American States just issued a statement urging the Venezuelan authorities to organize the recall referendum as soon as possible, and it was signed by 15 countries, as I said, including the U.S., Canada, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, all countries that are leaning right, aligned with the United States. What do you make of this, and do you think the international pressure will make any difference with regard to what's happening in the internal electoral procedures in Venezuela? From what I understand the procedures are very clearly spelled out in terms of recall referendums.

ELLNER: Right. There's no question about it, that there is a fundamental change in the correlation of forces politically, ideologically speaking, in Latin America over the last year. Elections have been held in countries like Peru, Argentina. There have been what some people are calling a soft coup that just took place in Brazil, that took place in Paraguay a couple years ago, that also took place in Honduras. And that has really changed things in terms of Venezuela's position within the context.

You know, Chavez played a key role in promoting Latin American [unity], and that coincided with a period of [inaud.] for the [inaud.] countries, Argentina, Brazil, to Ecuador, Bolivia, et cetera. El Salvador is a third example. And as a result I keep promoting [inaud.] Latin American community outside of the OAS. Just Latin American nations. This was the case with [inaud.], it was the case with Unasur, which takes in just South America. And so that the OAS, which some claim has been, is dominated by the United States and always has been, was undermined.

Now the situation has changed, and what is somewhat ironic is that the countries whose legitimacy has been most questioned are the countries that are at the forefront of this effort to ostracize Venezuela. Specifically in the case of Mercosur. Venezuela should assume the provisional presidency of Mercosur, which is done on an occasional basis. And it's Paraguy that has really been objecting to that. But you know, the government of Paraguay came to power in what some consider to be a soft coup. The same thing with the case of Brazil. Argentina took a more moderate position, at least at first.

So there's no question about it, that Venezuela is finding itself somewhat isolated within Latin America, and the efforts that were made by Chavez to promote unity basically involving the more radical leftist governments, such as Brazil, such as [livia], Ecuador, in Venezuela, and the more moderate leftist governments such as Argentina under the Kirchners, and Brazil, and Paraguay, but also trying to rein in non-leftist governments like that of Colombia. And I know the situation's totally different. And this manifests itself every day in condemnations of Venezuela, resolutions pointing to violation of human rights in Venezuela, and I think that that really has to be analyzed.

PERIES: Steve, you're a longtime follower and you've been living in Venezuela and have been a part of sort of the political analysis of Venezuela for a long time now. When you think about what's happening now in the moment that Venezuela is in, President Chavez faced similar kinds of pressures prior to the coup that took place in Venezuela against him. And so if you, if you think about the continental pressure, the pressure in terms of the oil industry and havoc and so on that led to the coup against him, are conditions repeating itself here?

ELLNER: Well, I would say that to a certain extent there are similarities, in the sense that Venezuela was politically, ideologically isolated at the time in 2002. But you know, consider the fact that during the coup, the coup that took place for two days in April of 2002, the Latin American community, even though there wasn't any leftist presence in Latin America at the time, nevertheless condemned the coup. And if any country was isolated it was the United States. The United States with, as a result of the efforts of Otto Reich under the Bush administration, attempted to convince other Latin American countries to recognize the de facto government of Pedro Carmona. And the rest of Latin America, with just one or two exceptions, refused to do so.

So in a sense, the situation now for Maduro is even more difficult, because he's not getting the support. He's facing the hostility of countries that, of governments that have just come to power, and are committed to a right-wing agenda in terms of economic policy, and have been pretty hostile to the position of the Maduro government within the community of nations, within the community of Latin American nations.

PERIES: Right. And then of course the OAS issuing these kinds of statements also smacked of what happened just prior to the coup that took place against President Chavez. Finally, I want to ask you, Steve, one of the things that we keep seeing in the international media repeated again and again is about the crisis and the turmoil that Venezuela is going through in terms of the ability to feed its people and find basic goods and services, and with the fallen oil prices and government not having as much revenue as it did. It is having a difficult time providing some of the services and goods that was provided for the people in the prior era of the Chavista governments. How are you feeling the crunch, as they say, on the ground? I mean, you're living there. How is it to actually live there right now under these pressures?



ELLNER: Well, it's not easy. It's not easy. And what the media, what the U.S. media, states about the situation, the economic situation, in Venezuela certainly reflects what is happening. On the other hand, there are exaggerations. I would say that one of the things the media does is to juxtapose the economic difficulties, which are undeniable, and the political situation in terms of violation of human rights, which is highly exaggerated. That's another issue, which I won't go into.

But that is, you know, it--the statements that are coming out of the media leave the impression that you have a failed state in Venezuela. And that is, that is hardly the case. The government is not a failed state government. It's taking measures, they're not completely successful, but they've alleviated the situation to a certain extent. And in addition to that, the image of a failed state with regard to repression and that kind of thing is really very far from what's happening on the ground.

But with regard to the shortages, you have a dual-tier situation in which you have long lines, people wait on long lines for hours and hours to get goods, to purchase goods, at highly-subsidized prices. Now, it's the poor people for the most part that do that, and the middle class end up purchasing goods either in legal commercial establishments that sell goods higher than the regulated price, so the middle class pays more without having to wait in line, or they purchase the goods in the informal economy, whose prices are even higher.

So they have a triple-tier situation in which goods are available to a certain extent, but prices are not uniform.

PERIES: All right, Steve, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we'll be keeping an eye on this situation with the referendum, and I hope you can join us again. Thank you.

From the Real News Network: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=16991

In Venezuela’s difficult times the grassroots are stronger

by Tamara Pearson

It’s been three years now of food shortages, inflation, and queues in Venezuela, and the millions of people involved in community and movement organizing have been the most affected. But they’ve also defied right-wing and general expectations, and even perhaps the expectations of the Maduro government, and have become stronger and better organized as a result of the hardships.

‘We can feel the difference between the quality of life we had four years ago – when things had improved so much. Everything is extremely expensive. You go out to buy a kilo of rice, and four days later the price has gone up, and it’s hard to deal with because our salaries don’t go up every four days,’ Jose Loaiza told me. A worker in charge of sustainable development for the mountain town of Los Nevados for Merida’s Teleferico (cable car) and a member of an urban agriculture organization, La Minga, Loaiza was one of four people I interviewed to get a sense of how the grassroots have been affected by these difficult times – times that have been utterly sensationalised and lied about by the mainstream media.

Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. by Tamara Pearson

‘When Chavez came to power, 80 per cent of people were poor. We drank milk once a fortnight and ate meat once a week. Most people didn’t have access to proteins,’ Joel Linares, a Caracas based community organizer who also works with rural workers’ councils, explained.

He described the current crisis as a result of politics, and ‘consumerism that isn’t working’ in an oil based, urban-centric economy where people don’t produce what they consume. Vegetables and fish are available, but they are expensive, and the basic goods that people are used to like rice, beans, and milk can only be obtained on the black market, or by queueing outside a supermarket from 4 am. But businesses seem to have no problem getting hold of those products, and it’s easy to get a pizza, coffee, or bread if you can afford it.

‘It’s not that these things don’t exist, but the mechanism of distribution is still controlled by the private sector,’ Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, a Caracas community council representative and journalist with Venezuelanalysis.com said. And that is a private sector which has profited greatly from the crisis, and which has an interest is bringing down Chavismo.

A boom in urban agriculture

But the food situation has led to changes in how people get food, and in the types of food they consume. More people are growing their own food, and the traditional Venezuelan diet heavy on deep fried carbs is being challenged, with oil and cornflour hard to come by.

Loaiza described a community meeting he attended recently where people growing food on their windowsills and patios and in public parks came together to collectivize their experiences. ‘People have realised that they have to take advantage of what space they have. Before, no one used the green spaces in housing complexes, and now they are growing food there. Colonial culture forced habits of buying everything on us, and now we’re breaking with that,’ he said.

‘Five years ago I knew perhaps eight people doing urban agriculture, but now I know about 500 people,’ he said.

‘Our community garden is still active, even though it was affected by the drought,’ Eliodina Villareal, a communal council spokesperson in an opposition-dominated part of Merida, explained. Further, food exchange, with neighbours swapping goods like pasta for margarine, has become common.


‘People are starting to understand how food works. There is no way to move forward until communities become involved in food and production. And that means that the communal councils and communes are less abstract now,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.




Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. Tamara Pearson

Where community organizations were previously focused on holding cultural events and fixing a road hole, for example, now many urban communes are trying to produce at least half their vegetables in urban gardens, and are buying the rest directly from rural producers.

The complexities of community organized food distribution

My own communal council, La Columna, covering four blocks of central Merida, has gone from meetings of five to 12 people in 2012, to around 90. Others testify that their community organization has been strengthened, that they are holding more and bigger meetings, and working more with other councils.

‘People are coming on their own accord, seeking support and organization to solve the situation. Through the government initiative, the CLAP (Local Committee of Supply and Production), we’ve sold bags of basic foods at very cheap prices. So people want to be included, but now the issue is how to meet the needs of all the families, and guaranteeing that they get the food, and not the bachaqueros (food speculators),’ Villareal said.

The CLAP are facing a range of obstacles. Organizers are leaving meetings to be in food queues, and they are exhausted with the work involved in obtaining basic resources like ink or paper for their communal work, or the days spent in organizing a truck for food. Food arrives to communities through the CLAP once a month, but Linares said that wasn’t often enough. Also, he said sometimes the CLAP face stigmatisation for not completely solving the food problems people are facing.

‘The people’s hunger is a battle weapon,’ Linares said, as he talked about the right-wing generated violence, combined with the politics of shortages, aimed at bringing about a sense of desperation. At the same time, people are having to combat corruption at various levels and are pushing for more control over production and distribution in order to guarantee efficiency of government. ‘A social and solidarity economy’ is the solution to such problems, and an alternative to wasteful consumerism, Linares argued.

When the communities get their food directly from farmers, they are attacking the insane speculation that happens through middlemen. ‘In our communal council we organized a vegetable market. We paid for the transport to bring the vegetables from the countryside. And it makes you wonder, if they sold us tomatoes at 450 bolivars ($.45) a kilo, and the people in the markets are selling them for thousands of bolivars, they must be making so much profit,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.

She described a further difficulty that some communities have faced, with the army sometimes stopping these food shipments. It has meant that some councils have had to use militia to protect their food from the army. The government appears to be losing complete control over its security forces, as they sense that the political forces have changed, with a right-wing parliament. ‘The right wing wants to revoke communal land rights, and some security forces are carrying out a dirty war in response to this dynamic,’ she explained.

Rural communities face some big hurdles too, but also have some advantages. Far from urban centres, it is even harder for them to access basic products, or to request funding. Loaiza said that with a return trip from Los Nevados to Merida costing 3,000 bolivars ($30.00), amounting to 20 per cent of a monthly wage, any paper work is difficult.

Members of the Merida communal council distributing food. Tamara Pearson

On the other hand, rural communities have been producing food for their own consumption for a long time. For those rural movements and groups who have also been organizing, their time to play an important role in Venezuela has come.

Better and worse human beings

‘To grow hurts, and Venezuelans are growing,’ Linares said. ‘The crisis has made us stronger,’ Loaiza argued. And even in Villareal’s opposition dominated area, there is empathy among neighbours ‘without political stripes being important’.

‘People are learning to be more solidarious, to be mindful of the elderly adults who live alone and need our support. We’re very motivated to keep fighting,’ she said.

But Loaiza also identified ‘two Venezuelas’. He described a ‘revolution that tries to get positive things out of everything and is dedicated to building’ and on the other hand, people who are gravely affected by the problems, but aren’t doing much about them and are affected by ‘anti-values’ such as individualism and selfishness. The first group, he explained, have spent years in collectives and ‘feel the solidarity’, so they don’t easily fall for the anti-values.

Eliodina Villareal (on the right) speaking at a communal council meeting. Tamara Pearson
Better and worse human beings

On the other hand, Boothroyd Rojas described the ruthlessness of people trying to make money out of the shortages. ‘There are a lot of scams. You feel under attack because every time you go to buy something, you are up against this battle. It makes people aggressive, and it’s exhausting. In 2012, for example, the empanadas were great, full to the brim with meat. And now people are charging for basically an empty empanada. You’re being scammed and people are making money – there’s no solidarity between the market sellers and the people.’
She also noted how tense it is, not just because of the food, but an overwhelmed health system. ‘The two hospitals I’ve been to aren’t like how the media portrays, with floors covered in blood, it’s not that bad, but going to crowded hospitals is stressful.’

Grassroots and the national government

The people I talked to differed in their analysis of the effectiveness of government initiatives in light of the food problems. Most people are frustrated with the national government’s response, but they have different ways of framing it. For some, the ‘economic war’ waged by the right-wing has made it difficult for the government to do much, while for others, the government has less connection now with the social movements and organizations and is too dependent on a stalling strategy.

‘The only solutions that are being developed at the moment is from the grassroots, but they are slow to have fruition as well,’ Boothroyd Rojas said. ‘I don’t think we can rely on theCLAP and the state for food, we need to change the structures that mean people are being charged too much, in a way that we would be protected if the opposition were to get into government, because they wouldn’t maintain any state involvement in food distribution.’

‘The government is responding to problem after problem, but the long term plans are coming from the communities. The CLAP are great, but the government isn’t organized enough to bring food to the whole country, and it’s very top down,’ she said. For example, the government stipulated that the CLAP must have a member from the Francisco de Miranda Front and from Inamujer, but those organizations aren’t present in all communities.

She said the grassroots don’t feel like they have much influence over the government or over the ‘course of things coming in the next few months’. Meanwhile, grassroots initiatives are also somewhat fragmented, with a lack of ‘national expression of people’s politics’, but there’s still a lot of room to make that happen.

Looking to the future

The current situation in Venezuela is unsustainable. ‘The future doesn’t look good,’ Villareal said. Communities are worried about what the right-wing could do in the national assembly, that it might eliminate the communal council and commune laws. However, even with a majority in the assembly, the right-wing is still acting like an opposition: more focused on delegitimising the ideas of Chavismo than on policy making.

'Less consumerism, more consciousness' reads the placard of a young protestor outside a supermarket queue. Tamara Pearson

‘It’s questionable if the right-wing even want a recall referendum to remove the sitting president, Nicolas Maduro, and if they really want to take power, as power means responsibility for sorting out this situation, and it would be clear they don’t really have any solutions,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.

‘But we are changing the way we consume, we’re learning to value what we have and to think and create, so we know that we’ll overcome this,’ Villareal concluded.
Reprint from New Internationalist Magazine

Tamara Pearson is a long time Latin America based journalist and the author of The Butterfly Prison