Wikileaks Corroborates U.S. Increased Aggression Towards Venezuela.

Wikileaks: Documents Confirm US Plans Against Venezuela

By Eva Golinger

State Department documents published by Wikileaks evidence Washington's plans to "contain" Venezuela's influence in the region and increase efforts to provoke regime change

A substantial portion of the more than 1600 State Department documents Wikileaks has published during the past two weeks refer to the ongoing efforts of US diplomacy to isolate and counter the Venezuelan government.

Since Hugo Chavez won the presidency for the first time in 1998, Washington has engaged in numerous efforts to overthrow him, including a failed coup d'etat in April 2002, an oil industry strike that same year, worldwide media campaigns and varios electoral interventions. The State Department has also used its funding agencies, USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), to channel millions of dollars annually to anti-Chavez NGOs, political parties, journalists and media organizations in Venezuela, who have been working to undermine the Chavez administration and force him from power.

When these interventionist policies have been denounced by the Chavez government and others, Washington has repeatedly denied any efforts to isolate or act against the Venezuelan head of state.

Nonetheless, the State Department cables published by Wikileaks clearly evidence that not only has Washington been actively funding anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela, but it also has engaged in serious efforts during the past few years to convince governments worldwide to assume an adversarial position against President Hugo Chavez.

In a secret document authored by current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Craig Kelly, and sent by the US Embassy in Santiago in June 2007 to the Secretary of State, CIA and Southern Command of the Pentagon, along with a series of other US embassies in the region, Kelly proposed "six main areas of action for the US government (USG) to limit Chavez's influence" and "reassert US leadership in the region".

Kelly, who played a primary role as "mediator" during last year's coup d'etat in Honduras against President Manuel Zelaya, classifies President Hugo Chavez as an "enemy" in his report. "Know the enemy: We have to better understand how Chavez thinks and what he intends...To effectively counter the threat he represents, we need to know better his objectives and how he intends to pursue them. This requires better intelligence in all of our countries". Further on in the memo, Kelly confesses that President Chavez is a "formidable foe", but, he adds, "he certainly can be taken". In 2006, Washington activated a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mission Manager for Venezuela and Cuba. The mission, headed by clandestine CIA veteran Timothy Langford, is one of only four such intelligence entities of its type. The others were created to handle intelligence matters relating to Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan/Pakistan, evidencing the clear priority that Washington has placed on Venezuela as a target of increased espionage and covert operations.

Another suggestion made by Kelly in the secret cable, is a recommendation to increase US presence in the region and improve relations with Latin American military forces. "We should continue to strengthen ties to those military leaders in the region who share our concern over Chavez".

Kelly also proposed a "psychological operations" program against the Venezuelan government to exploit its vulnerabilities. "We also need to make sure that the truth about Chavez - his hollow vision, his empty promises, his dangerous international relationships, starting with Iran - gets out, always exercising careful judgment about where and how we take on Chavez directly/publicly".

Kelly recommended US officials make more visits to the region to "show the flag and explain directly to populations our view of democracy and progress". Kelly also offered details on how Washington could better exploit the differences amongst South American governments to isolate Venezuela:

"Brazil...can be a powerful counterpoint to Chavez's project...Chile offers another excellent alternative to Chavez...We should look to find other ways to give Chile the lead on important initiatives, but without making them look like they are our puppets or surrogates. Argentina is more complex, but still presents distinct characteristics that should inform our approach to countering Chavez's influence there".

Kelly also revealed the pressure Washington has been applying to Mercosur (Market of the South) to not accept Venezuela as a full member in the regional trade bloc. "With regard to Mercosur, we should not be timid in stating that Venezuela's membership will torpedo US interest in even considering direct negotiations with the trading bloc".

The cables published by Wikileaks not only reveal US hostility towards Venezuela, but also the requests made by regional leaders and politicians to work against President Chavez.

One secret document from October 2009 referring to a meeting between Mexican President Felipe Calderon and US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair tells of how Calderon confessed he was "trying to isolate Venezuela through the Rio Group". The Mexican head of state also appealed to the US intelligence chief, "The region needs a visible US presence...the United States must be ready to engage the next Brazilian president. Brazil, he said, is key to restraining Chavez...The US needs to engage Brazil more and influence its outlook".

In several secret documents authored by the US Embassy in Colombia, efforts by ex President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, to convince Washington to take action against Venezuela are evidenced.

In one cable from December 2007, the US Ambassador in Colombia recounts a meeting between Uribe and a delegation of US congress members, including Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. According to the text, Uribe "likened the threat Chavez poses to Latin America to that posed by Hitler in Europe".

And in yet another report summarizing a January 2008 meeting between Uribe and the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, Uribe is quoted as recommending military action against Venezuela.

"The best counter to Chavez, in Uribe's view, remains action - including use of the military".

Later in that same secret cable, Uribe urged Washington to "lead a public campaign against counter Chavez..."

In addition to regional politicians and US diplomats urging plans against President Chavez, one cable reveals how during a meeting between a Venezuelan Archbishop and the US Ambassador, the religious leader asked for Washington to act against his own government. At the meeting, which took place in January 2005 according to the document, Archbishop Baltazar Porras told Ambassador William Brownfield that the "US government should be more clear and public in its criticism of the Chavez administration" and that the "international community also needs to work and speak out more to contain Chavez..."

The plans and strategies revealed through these official documents confirm what other evidence has already corroborated regarding Washington's increase in aggression towards Venezuela. The US continues to fund opposition groups that act to undermine Venezuelan democracy while escalating its hostile discourse and policies against the Chavez government.

This week's Senate affirmation of Larry Palmer as Ambassador to Venezuela will only make matters worse. Palmer was rejected by the Venezuelan government after he made negative statements about the Chavez administration in August. Washington's insistence of sending Palmer appears to be an effort to provoke a rupture in diplomatic relations.

NGO PROVEA in Venezuela Paid in U.S. Dollars

Canada & VenezuelaDecember 12, 2010
By Yves Engler

While many on the left know that Washington has spent tens of millions of dollars funding groups that oppose Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, less well known is Ottawa's role, especially that of the Canadian government's "arms-length" human rights organization, Rights & Democracy (R&D).

Montreal-based R&D recently gave its 2010 John Humphrey Award to the Venezuelan non-governmental organization PROVEA (El Programa Venezolano de Educacion-Accion en Derechos Humanos). According to R&D's website, "The Award consists of a grant of $30,000 and a [December] speaking tour of Canadian cities to help increase awareness of the recipient's human rights work."

PROVEA is highly critical of Venezuela's elected government. In December 2008 Venezuela's interior and justice minister called PROVEA "liars" who were "paid in [US] dollars."

During a September visit "to meet with representatives of PROVEA and other [Venezuelan] organizations devoted to human rights and democratic development" R&D President, Gerard Latulippe, blogged about his and PROVEA's political views. "Marino [Betancourt, Director General of PROVEA] told me about recent practices of harassment and criminalization of the government towards civil society organizations." In another post Latulippe explained, "We have witnessed in recent years the restriction of the right to freedom of expression. Since 2004-2005, the government of President Chavez has taken important legislative measures which limit this right." Upon returning to Canada, Latulippe cited Venezuela as a country with "no democracy". He told Embassy magazine, "You can see the emergence of a new model of democracy, where in fact it's trying to make an alternative to democracy by saying people can have a better life even if there's no democracy. You have the example of Russia. You have an example of Venezuela."

Latulippe's claims have no basis in reality. On top of improving living conditions for the country's poor, the Chavez-led government has massively increased democratic space through community councils, new political parties and worker cooperatives. They have also won a dozen elections/referendums over the past twelve years (and lost only one).

R&D, which is funded almost entirely by the federal government, takes its cues from Ottawa. The Canadian government has repeatedly attacked Chavez. In April 2009 Stephen Harper responded to a question regarding Venezuela by saying, "I don't take any of these rogue states lightly" and after expressing "concerns over the shrinkage of democratic space" in September, Minister for the Americas Peter Kent said, "This is an election month in Venezuela and the official media has again fired up some of the anti-Semitic slurs against the Jewish community as happened during the Gaza incursion." Even the head of Canada's military recently criticized the Chavez government in the Canadian Military Journal. After a tour of South America, Walter Natynczyk wrote "Regretably, some countries, such as Venezuela, are experiencing the politicization of their armed forces." The Harper government's attacks against Venezuela are part of its campaign against the region's progressive forces. Barely discussed in the media, the Harper government's shift of aid from Africa to Latin America was largely designed to stunt Latin America's recent rejection of neoliberalism and U.S. dependence by supporting the region's right-wing governments and movements.

To combat independent-minded, socialist-oriented governments and movements Harper's Conservatives have "played a more active role in supporting U.S. ideologically-driven [democracy promotion] initiatives," notes researcher Neil A. Burron. They opened a South America focused "democracy promotion" centre at the Canadian Embassy in Peru. Staffed by two diplomats, this secretive venture may clash with the Organization of American States' non-intervention clause.

According to documents unearthed by Anthony Fenton, in November 2007 Ottawa gave the Justice and Development Consortium (Asociacion Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia) $94,580 "to consolidate and expand the democracy network in Latin America and the Caribbean." Also funded by the U.S. government's CIA front group National Endowment for Democracy, the Justice and Development Consortium has worked to unite opposition to leftist Latin American governments. Similarly, in the spring of 2008 the Canadian Embassy in Panama teamed up with the National Endowment for Democracy to organize a meeting for prominent members of the opposition in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador. It was designed to respond to the "new era of populism and authoritarianism in Latin America." The meeting spawned the Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia, "which brings together mainstream NGOs critical of the leftist governments in the hemisphere." The foremost researcher on U.S. funding to the anti-Chavez opposition, Eva Golinger, claims Canadian groups are playing a growing role in Venezuela and according to a May 2010 report from Spanish NGO Fride, "Canada is the third most important provider of democracy assistance" to Venezuela after the U.S. and Spain. Burron describes an interview with a Canadian "official [who] repeatedly expressed concerns about the quality of democracy in Venezuela, noting that the [Federal government's] Glyn Berry program provided funds to a 'get out the vote' campaign in the last round of elections in that country." You can bet it wasn't designed to get Chavez supporters to the polls.

Ottawa is not forthcoming with information about the groups they fund in Venezuela, but according to disclosures made in response to a question by former NDP Foreign Affairs critic Alexa McDonough, Canada helped finance Sumate, an NGO at the forefront of anti-Chavez political campaigns. Canada gave Sumate $22,000 in 2005-06. Minister of International Cooperation Jose Verner explained that "Canada considered Sumate to be an experienced NGO with the capability to promote respect for democracy, particularly a free and fair electoral process in Venezuela." Yet the name of Sumate leader Maria Corina Machado, who Foreign Affairs invited to Ottawa in January 2005, appeared on a list of people who endorsed the 2002 coup against Chavez, for which she faced charges of treason.

The simple truth is that the current government in Ottawa supports the old elites that long worked with the U.S. empire. It opposes the progressive social transformations taking place in a number of Latin American countries and as a result it supports civil society groups opposed to these developments.

Yves Engler's the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and the Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy . For more info:

Venezuelan Government and Civil Society Increase Flood Relief for Thousands of Rain Victims

Venezuelan Government and Civil Society Increase Flood Relief for Thousands of Rain Victims
by James Suggett
Dec 7th 2010

Mérida, December 7th 2010 – In response to heavy flooding caused by two weeks of torrential rains, the Venezuelan government declared a 90-day state of emergency in four additional states yesterday and announced a $2.3 billion (10 billion bolivars) special fund for flood victims.

The states of Zulia, Mérida Trujillo, and Nueva Esparta were added to the list of seven other states where official emergencies have been declared with the purpose of “allowing decisions to move forward that transcend the power and the capacity of the local governments,” according to President Hugo Chavez.

Nearly half of Venezuela’s states are now in an official state of emergency.
The president pledged that the 10 billion bolivars will be drawn from the National Reserve Fund and used toward “an integral reconstruction plan” for every community impacted by the rains. In addition, the government will use profits from the state-owned telecommunications company, CANTV, to pay a 1,223 bolivar ($284) holiday “bonus” to each of the 5,000 families – approximately 20,000 people – who were forced from their homes by the flooding.

Chavez has been on a non-stop, nation-wide, night and day tour of the areas affected by the flooding.
On Monday, during a visit to the rural, mostly indigenous Guajira region of northwestern Zulia, Chavez described the situation as “very dramatic.”

“The Guajira is underwater. It is a sea in the Guajira... we saw people leaving their homes with children in water up to their chests,” Chavez said as he met with hundreds of flood victims on national television.“The water swept away a dignified soldier who we still haven’t found. I am filled with dismay, very impacted, and sensitized to the calamity that the people are living,” Chavez said.

To house the flood victims, starting on Saturday and throughout the coming months the government will gradually hand over 1,045 recently nationalized homes and apartments in the capital city of Caracas as well as in the states of Miranda, Trujillo and Zulia.

Chavez also announced that 4.3 billion bolivars ($1 billion) earned from a recent sale of oil refineries to Russia will be earmarked for new housing construction for the flood victims.

In the meantime, the Venezuelan head of state issued a decree obligating large luxury hotels to open their doors temporarily to people displaced by the mudslides, rains, and flooding.

“How are we going to permit these huge luxury hotels to be here, while people outside are up to their necks in rain?” Chavez declared after giving the nationally televised order to occupy the hotels.

Chavez repeatedly called for “order” in the process of transporting people and occupying the hotels and charged National Guard General Luis Motto to manage the proces.

In an interview with the state television station VTV, General Motto stressed that there is no seizure of private property occurring at the hotels as some media outlets have alleged, and that the government is coordinating with the hotel owners for the temporary occupation.

“It is completely calm here. The private management is collaborating willingly. The hotel owners have communicated with us and up until now they have offered 150 bedrooms,” said Motto amidst a group of flood refugees outside of the Higuerote Hotel near Caracas.

The opposition television channel Globovision interviewed the vice president of the National Federation of Hotels, Ricardo Cusanno, who stated: “We are always open to helping, but within a cordial relationship in which the rules are clear.”

Civil Society Efforts
A number of independent efforts by people and organizations around the country have also strengthened the overall response to Venezuela’s worst rain in 40 years.

The Venezuelan Network of Afro-Descendants has opened its Center for Integral Studies of the African Diaspora in the coastal region of Barlovento to house and provide basic services to flood victims.

Several labor unions and community organizations have also initiated spontaneous efforts to aid flood victims. The state-funded leftist youth organization Frente Francisco de Miranda has sent brigades of relief workers to affected communities nation-wide.

María Rosa Jimenez, a national coordinator of the Frente Francisco de Miranda, described the civil society relief effort to the state television station VTV: “What is happening is the people are deepening their solidarity with one another, and their trust in the government, which has shown its face,” she said.

“The crisis is the product of the economic and social model we live in,” Jimenez said, reiterating the argument made by many Venezuelan socialists that capitalism has caused environmental destruction that in turn has created natural disasters such as the recent rains.

“Whatever the government of President Hugo Chavez does, those who sustain this model and the private media that serve it and serve the historically dominant classes are going to try to generate fear and fabricate a reality that is not the one the people are living,” said Jimenez.

Government officials and members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela have repeatedly called on the Catholic Church and the opposition-controlled state and local governments to help in the flood relief effort by opening their facilities to people displaced by the rains and by actively helping the relief effort.

Venezuela experienced a record-setting drought in 2009 that nearly shutdown the nation’s largest dam and contributed to a national electricity shortage. The recent rains have punctuated a particularly heavy rainy season this year.

David Sánchez of the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology announced yesterday that light rains are expected to continue in Venezuela’s eastern and Andean regions.

The last two weeks of rains have caused the death of 35 people, destroyed the homes of more than 5,000 people, and led more than 70,000 to flee their homes and take refuge in hundreds of emergency tent camps, hotels, and government buildings including the presidential palace and other structures that have been transformed into shelters.

New Health Care Agreement With Cuba

45,174 Venezuelans received free medical assistance in Cuba
November 30, 2010

“It has been 10 years after the endorsement of the Comprehensive Health Agreement Cuba-Venezuela and the results can be clearly seen: 45,174 Venezuelan affected by different pathologies went to Cuba in order to receive assistance for their health problems.” Explained the coordinator of the cooperation program Johnny Ramos.

Ramos assured that there are cases of patients who were declared terminally ill in health centers of Venezuela. These people suffered from cancer, CVAs and conditions in their vital organs. They underwent a proper medical treatment in Cuba and now enjoy perfect health and have a better quality of life.

He explained that one of the conclusions about the neglect of patients with serious diseases is that a significant number of Venezuelan doctors have a mercantilist conception of health. Thus, doctors send home patients who cannot afford a medical treatment.

“In Venezuela, there are excellent doctors, they are among the best of the world. The difference stems from the point of view in which medicine is considered. Venezuelan doctors had the idea of making money, while in Cuba they have the idea to help those human beings in need.” Ramos pointed out.

“We understand than a professional of medicine has studied to have a better life but a persons health cannot be priced, and that is what has occurred in our health care system.” He said.

However, thanks to the agreement endorsed by the Venezuelan and Cuban governments, the philosophical conception of health in Venezuela is being transformed through the education of new professionals of the Latin American Medicine School (ELAM).

More than 1,000 graduates are doing postgraduate courses in Cuba and Venezuela to date. A group of these postgraduates have joined the flagship bi-national health program: Mission Barrio Adentro. “The directors Mission Barrio Adentro are Venezuelan. There are currently around 10,000 students in the last year of the medicine school and all of them are professionals with another way to conceive medicine, as socialist medicine, in which people is not treated as merchandise.”

Another decade to go
On November 10, President Hugo Chávez Frías and Raúl Castro Ruz ratified the comprehensive agreement for another decade.

Ramos stated that this new phase has the aim to create centers of specialized assistance. The main objective during the first ten years was to consolidate Mission Barrio Adentro in its phases I, II and III, which include primary health care, comprehensive care, Centers of Comprehensive Diagnosis, Comprehensive Rehabilitation Rooms and restoration of public hospitals.

“The specialized centers allow not only to give assistance to the patients, but also to contribute to the education of the human resources. We are currently working on the creation of the Oncological Hospital, the National Center for Neurological Restoration and the National Center for the Treatment of Addictions.” Ramos remarked.

The agreement will enter a new phase in 2011: “10,000 Venezuelan doctors will join the program. They are going to progressively replace our Cuban brothers because the health system is intended to be managed by Venezuelans.” He added.

Ministry of Peoples Power for Foreign Affairs

Self-Emancipation and Struggle Are the Keys to Changing the World

Dear Friends,

Putting Humans Back in Socialism is a new book by Michael Lebowitz which draws on his more than ten-year experience in Venezuela. Referring to what President Hugo Chavez calls "the elementary triangle of socialism" -- social ownership of the means of production, social production organised by workers, and production for communal needs -- Lebowitz outlines what is at the heart of this radical alternative for the 21st Century.
Putting Humans Back into Socialismby Federico Fuentes
Book Review: The Socialist Alternative by Michael Lebowitz, Monthly Review Press, 2010, 192 pages; US$15.95

The onset of the global economic crisis in mid 2008, symbolised by the collapse of some of Wall Street's most iconic companies, led to soaring sales of Karl Marx's seminal work Das Kapital, as many sought explanations to the tumultuous events unfolding.

Although written more than 100 years ago, this devastating and insightful dissection of how capital functions is still a powerful tool for people looking to understand and change the world.

Marx's aim was to provide a handbook for working-class activists that unravelled the logic of capital and its inherently exploitative nature. Marx said this was necessary because as long as workers did not understand that capital was the result of their exploitation, they would not be able to defeat their enemy.

Michael Lebowitz's latest book, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development says it is essential also to investigate the important insights Marx made regarding the alternative.

This easily accessible book is written to provide young and working-class socialist militants a weapon in their struggle for a better world.

It is hard to agree more with Bill Fletcher Jr., when he says this book "should be the focus of discussion groups of activists as they attempt to unite their radical practice with theorising a radical, democratic and Marxist alternative for the future".

Lebowitz rejects the old saying that "if we don't know where we want to go, any path will take us there." Rather, if you don't know where you are going, no path will lead you there.

Lebowitz says: "The purpose of this book is to point to an alternative path" focused on the "full development of human potential".

Pulling together the different threads in Marx's various sketches on socialism, and drawing on his own personal experiences and studies on "real existing socialism," social democracy, and most importantly, Venezuela's struggle for a new socialism for the 21st Century, The Socialist Alternative aims to "develop a general vision of socialism and concrete directions for struggle".

Lebowitz's idea of socialism breaks from the dominant vision that prioritises "the development of productive forces" that, supposedly, will one day provide abundance and "allow everyone to consume and consume in accordance with their needs".

Instead, he places humans at the centre of its focus.
The book does not set out to be about the Bolivarian process in Venezuela -- Lebowitz has lived in Venezuela since 2004 -- but many of the ideas in it will be familiar to those acquainted with the ideas being debated today within a mass movement where the idea of socialism has gripped the mind of the masses and converted itself into a material force for change.

The idea that self-emancipation and struggle are the keys to changing the world and people is essential to Lebowitz's argument.

Citing Friedrich Engels, Lebowitz maintains that the aim of communists is "to organise society in such a way that every member of it can develop and use all his capacities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic condition of this society".

The only way to do so is through "revolutionary practice" because human development is not a gift given from on high. Marx explained that revolutionary struggle produces a simultaneous "changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change".

Put another way, "without the protagonism that transforms people, you cannot produce the people who belong in the good society … and understand that the development of the human capacities on the one side [cannot be] based on the restriction of development on the other".

Capitalism offers no alternative in this regard. Rather, it is a system based on a "vicious cycle".

People have real needs but do not possess the means to satisfy them. They are therefore forced to work for those that do (capitalists) and compete against others in repetitive labour, so as to be able to buy at least some of the products they need.

Lebowitz says: "Add to this the fact that workers' needs to consume grow as a result of the combination of the alienation (the impoverishment, the "complete emptying-out) characteristic of capitalist production and the constant generation of new needs by capital in its attempt to sell commodities, and it is easy to see why workers are compelled to continually present themselves in the labour market".

This vicious cycle never stops under capitalism. Capital requires workers to see the cycle as a "normal" part of life.

"The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirement of that mode of production as self-evident natural laws," wrote Marx in Capital.

Today however, capital is haunted by the spectre of "socialism for the 21st century".
Drawing on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and what he calls "the elementary triangle of socialism" -- social ownership of the means of production, social production organised by workers, and production for communal needs -- Lebowitz outlines what is at the heart of this radical alternative for the 21st Century.

Private ownership of the means of production must be replaced with social ownership of the products of social heritage and social labour as the "only way to ensure that these are used in the interests of society and not for private gain".

But social and state ownership are not the same. A real socialist alternative requires a "profound democracy from below rather than decisions by a state that stands over and above society", where all workers are able to develop their human capacities.

Critical to this is the second side of the triangle: Social production.

In opposition to the command-and-obey workplace, a socialist alternative must be based on the replacement of the division of labour between those that think (intellectual labour) and those that do (manual labour).

This artificial division can best be overcome with collective democratic decision-making in the workplace.

To complete the triangle of social ownership and worker management, Lebowitz says productive activity must be geared towards the needs of others.

That is, the creation of a society based on solidarity, where there is an exchange "not of exchange values but 'of activities, determined by communal needs and communal purposes'".

The second half of the book deals with how we get there: "Knowing where you want to go is only the first part; it's not at all the same as knowing how to get there."

Here again, Lebowitz puts stress on revolutionary practice. He says the impulse for the development of socialism must be the drive of workers for their own human development.

Workers need not only "seize possession of production" to introduce worker management and communal production. They also need to "seize possession of the state" and conquer political power.

As the Communist Manifesto says: "The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class."

From this position of power, "the proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state".

The experience of the Paris Commune convinced Marx and Engels workers could not use the ready existing state for its own purposes; rather it had to be smashed and replaced by a new state of "self-working and self-governing communes".

So the struggle for a socialist transformation must unfold on two fronts: within the state that owns the means of production, and in the workplaces.

But the struggle also unfolds within the context of an emerging new society that is, said Marx, "economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old [capitalist] society from whose womb it emerges".

For the struggle to succeed, it is vital to fight consciously against the "defects" inherited from the old society and subordinate -- rather than try to use -- these defects to one's ends.

Lebowitz is opposed to a vision of socialism that suggests it must pass through distinct stages, where priority is first given to developing the productive forces to create a world of abundance, and says this was not Marx's view.

Chapter six, "Making a path to socialism", offers a kind of transitional program for socialism in the 21st century.

Lebowitz's starting point is that the transition towards socialism must move forward simultaneously on all three fronts of the socialist triangle.

He says every concrete measure must serve to change circumstances while helping to produce revolutionary subjects and raise their capacities.

"Only in a revolution," wrote Marx and Engels, can the working class "succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew."

Threats to this revolutionary process are always present from counter-revolutionary capitalist elements, the tendency of bureaucrats to "seize production" for themselves and the tendency to rely on the market to resolve problems.

To combat this, a "socialist mode of regulation" is essential to allow socialism to subordinate all elements of society to itself, and create the organs it still lacks.

This encompasses an ideological struggle against capitalism and for socialism ("The Battle of Ideas"); the creation of worker and community councils where people can organise to change their circumstances and themselves at the same time; and "a state that supports this struggle ideologically, economically, and militarily and thus serves as the midwife for the birth of the new society".

At this point, Lebowitz asks a central question: "What do we mean by the state

"We have to talk about two states here -- one, the state that workers captured at the outset and that initiates despotic inroads upon capital, that is, the old state; and, second, the emerging new state based upon workers councils and neighbourhood councils as its cells.

"The two must coexist and interact throughout this process of becoming.

"The inherent tension between these two states -- between the top-down orientation from within the old state and the bottom-up emphasis of the workers and community councils -- is obvious."

"Yet," Lebowitz argues adamantly, "that tension is not the principle contradiction."

Given the presence of revolutionaries in the old state, it would be an error to act as if it was the same as the capitalist state.

Similarly, it would be a mistake to ignore the vices of the old society present in the embryonic forms of the new state.

The struggle against bureaucrats seeking to defend their privileges or ideological inertia will unfold within both states.

At the same time, Lebowitz says, "interaction between the two states is essential".

The old state has the advantage of being able to see the picture as a whole and concentrate forces, but it also has a tendency to act from above and prioritise expediency over revolutionary practice.

The new organs can identify "the needs and capacities of people and can mobilise people to link those needs and capacities directly".

But there is also a tendency towards localism and the new emerging state "is not capable at the outset of making essential decisions that require concentration and coordination of forces".

Critical to all this is a political instrument -- or political party -- that can provide leadership. This is needed because a society marked by the vices of the old cannot produce a process where all workers become socialists at the same time.

But a new kind of leadership that "fosters revolutionary practice only by continuously learning from below. There is, in short, a process of interaction, a dialectic between the political instrument and popular movements.

"By itself, the former becomes a process of command from above; by itself, the latter cannot develop a concept of the whole -- that is, it cannot transcend localism."

The Socialist Alternative is an inspiring and insightful contribution to the discussion of rebuilding the socialist project in light of past failures and the current challenges facing anti-capitalist activists everywhere.

No doubt here in Australia, in the context of the resources boom and the growing environmental crisis, the ideas raised in the book regarding social ownership and the need to struggle for transparency -- "open the books" -- will provide much food for thought for ecosocialists in the battles that lie ahead of us.

Challenge: Debate, Revolutionary Strategy, and Tactics

States and revolution in Latin America
Sunday, November 28, 2010
By Federico Fuentes

It should come as no surprise that Latin America, a region converted into a laboratory for ongoing experiments in social change, has increasingly become the topic of discussion and debate among the broader left.

Latin America has not only dealt blows to imperialism but also raised the banner of socialism on a global scale. It is of strategic importance for those fighting for a better world, especially at a time when capitalism is in systemic crisis.

Latin America’s landscape of powerful social movements, left governments of various shades, revolutionary insurrections, and growing expressions of indigenous resistance and worker control, provides a perfect scenario for leftists to learn about, and debate, revolutionary strategy and tactics.

This should not simply be an academic debate. It should look at how to best build solidarity with these movements for change and gain insight for struggles at home.

Of late, burning dispute has opened up, mostly among those writing from an anti-capitalist orientation: a debate over the complex relationship, or “dance” as Ben Dangl calls it, between social movements and states in Latin America.

Dancing with Dynamite: States and Social Movements in Latin America is Dangl’s second book.

Like his first book, The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia, (reviewed GLW issue 714, Dangl’s latest offering provides an opportunity for the subjects of the social changes underway in Latin America to speak for themselves and tell their own story.

However, this time he expands his focus beyond Bolivia and the wars between communities and corporations, to look at how an intriguing dance between states, governments and social movements is playing out in seven different countries. All the countries have varying characteristics but similar challenges.

Moreover, Dancing with Dynamite is a much more explicit polemic, developing some of the ideas first outlined in The Price of Fire.

Dangl’s introduction to Dancing with Dynamite says: “The discussion surrounding the question of changing the world through taking state power or remaining autonomous has been going on for centuries.

“The vitality of South America’s new social movements, and the recent shift to the left in the halls of government power, make the region a timely subject of study within this ongoing debate.”

As the title suggests, Dangl comes out strongly for “remaining autonomous” from state power.

Whatever one might think of this thesis, Dangl’s book is an important contribution to the debate that should be read for at least two reasons.

First, it is written by the founder of, one of the most influential English-language websites on the left for information and analysis about Latin America.

Anyone who follows this website (such as me), will have some sense of the politics put forward in the book.

The focus here, as in, is very much on the social movements and struggles unfolding within each national context.

Second, Dangl not only sets out to analyse the movements in Latin America, but also to examine what lessons activists in the United States can extract from the struggles south of the border.

In essence, while his views on the various governments and their character differ, each chapter tends to portray a similar picture.

Citing Emma Goldman, Noam Chomsky and John Holloway, author of the polemical book Change the World Without Taking Power, Dangl argues that in each country he studied, while social movements are constantly on a “tightrope walk between cooptation and genuine collaboration,” more often than not, cooperation with the state leads to demobilisation.

The dance between state and social movements can be deadly, because “the state and governing parties is, by its nature, a hegemonic force that generally aims to subsume, weaken or eliminate other movements and political forces”.

Faced with this dangerous dance, Dangl reaches the same conclusion as Raul Zibechi, Uruguayan activist and author of Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces.

“If the state is in danger of falling into the hands of fascist groups”, Zibechi says, “we should do all we can to prevent that from happening, including participating in the elections, in a direct form or in support of other connected groups.

“But we know that there, in this field, in this space, what is central to our future is not being fought over. We will not put our best forces in this terrain because we know that what is fought over there, usually, is not decisive in terms of changing the system.”

This is why, according to Dangl, Venezuelan Presiden Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva “demonstrate important parallels”.

It’s just that “populist rhetoric, constitutional changes, and funds from nationalised industries cushion the setbacks in Venezuela and Bolivia”.

If we want to look for a real alternative, Dangl says we won’t find them in Venezuela or Bolivia, where many of the movements “bow down to politicians and parties during campaign seasons, and then prostrate themselves for government handouts or positions”.

Instead, he says we need to look at the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil (MST), which “doesn’t wait for the state — it acts according to its own logic and needs”.

The MST best encapsulates the correct approach of both “pressuring the state and empowering their own territories from below.”

Using an approach of expanding — or “dispersing” — power “can mean working to become a sustainable movement that can weather political climates”, says Dangl.

Leaving to one side whether this accurately reflects the goals of the MST or not, a number of problems arise in such an analysis.

For a start, Dangl uses the terms government and state interchangeably, confusing two different things. Second, his ideal of “dispersing power” (while pressuring the existing state), as opposed to creating an alternate state power, leads to some contradictory conclusions.

On the one hand he argues that by their nature, states coopt and ultimately destroy social movements.

Yet, Dangl also argues that while “working for a better world without a state” a “viable strategy” could be “supporting state-based programs, if they indeed help people achieve their long and short term goals”.

The chapter on Venezuela best highlights what Dangl means.

Correctly pointing out that the old, existing state “replicates the inequalities and challenges found in many other nations”, Dangl also notes that this state is attempting to, in the words of Sara Motta “create a new set of state institutions that bypass the traditional state, and distribute power in a democratic and participatory manner”.

The explanation for this seeming contradiction is simple.

First, Dangl confuses the difference between a movement — in this case the Bolivarian movement — winning government and controlling the state.

When Chavez was first elected in 1998, he was elected as the head of a capitalist state. However, he and the movement very quickly realised that this state had not been created to benefit the majority, and that instead it was necessary to “give power to the people” to tackle poverty.

To shift the rules of the game more in its favour, the Bolivarian movement convoked a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.

But to make this, and the government’s social and economic programs, a reality, it was necessary to gain real control over the state, and in particular PDVSA, the state oil company.

It was the attempt by the Chavez government to move forward on this front that triggered an intense reaction by Venezuela’s elites, who saw it as a direct attack on them.

The intense class battles of 2002 — the struggle to defeat the April military coup and then the December-January 2003 bosses’ lockout of the oil industry — led to the emergence of a number of important social movements (particularly the workers movement) and a break of capital’s control over the armed forces.

These forces were crucial to the survival of the government, but also shifted the balance of class forces in favour of the poor majority and their government, which only now had the power to move forward on a number of its social programs.

And more importantly, they helped in the creation on the new state institutions that Dangl and Motta refer to.

Since then, the Bolivarian movement has worked to stimulate the self-activity of the masses to create new organs of popular power — worker councils, communes and peoples militias — as the bedrock of the new communal state.

By operating within the old state to destroy it, and working to build a new state from below at the same time, the Bolivarian movement has been able to advance.

Michael Lebowitz argues in his new book The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, that while tensions between the “top-down orientation” of the old state and the “bottom-up emphasis” of the new communal state will exist in Venezuela, this “tension is not the principle contradiction”.

Rather, just as we find revolutionaries working within and against the old state in order to build a new society, so do we find old ideas and vices present within social movements that have emerged in the old society.

The challenge is how to best link these two forces through the revolutionary struggle to destroy the old state and build the new communal state.

Essential to this is the construction of a political instrument — a mass revolutionary party — that can bring together these activists to share experiences and provide political leadership in the battle to capture power, destroy the old state and build a new socialist society.

This is the struggle unfolding today in Venezuela, both in the developing worker and communal councils, and in the construction of a mass revolutionary party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

In all these areas we will find evidence of the old state bureaucracy and its allies working to undermine self-organisation of the masses. Just as we will find rank and file militants who drag with them the vices inherit in a capitalist society.

Bringing together revolutionaries to build an independent movement of workers and oppressed sectors and confront and destroy the old state helps to overcome these obstacles.

The alternative, that focuses solely on building local power, but refusing to destroy the capitalist state, can only lead on the one hand to support for pro-capitalist forces and the demoralisation of social movements on the other.

By downplaying the political struggle, reducing it to electoral terms, Dangl ends up lending support to the idea of voting for politicians like Obama. If the political struggle is not important, then why not just support the “lesser evil” rather than build a political independent movement of the working class?

Similarly, by refusing to create an independent working class party to help cohere and orientate local struggles not only to resist, but take power, the struggle can be led down the path of demoralisation and defeat.

Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA)

Cuba and Venezuela Commemorate 10th Anniversary of Bilateral Cooperation
by James Suggett

Mérida, November 8th 2010 – The Cuban and Venezuelan governments commemorated the 10th anniversary of the beginning of their bilateral cooperation during a working visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the Caribbean island over the weekend.

On October 30, 2000, during Chavez’s second year in office, the two countries signed the “Integral Agreement for Collaboration” in Caracas. It marked the beginning of an anti-imperialist alliance and a form of exchange that was presented as an alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Through the accord, Venezuela began shipping 53,000 barrels per day of its principal export, oil, to fuel-starved Cuba in exchange for human services worth the approximate market value of the oil.

In subsequent years, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, dentists, optometrists, physical therapists, nurses, and other health care workers staffed free clinics in thousands of Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods. Cuba also provided vaccines, treatment for illnesses such as heart disease, anemia, asthma, HIV and AIDS, and began training Venezuelan doctors in a program called “Integral Community Medicine.”

Also through the accord, Cuban agronomists worked with Venezuelan officials to modernize Venezuela’s sugar industry, and Cuban specialists provided on-site training in agroecology, organic fertilizer production, irrigation, sustainable forestry, and the promotion of agricultural cooperatives. Cuban literacy trainers assisted Venezuela’s national drive to eradicate illiteracy, a goal that was achieved in 2005 according to the United Nations. In addition, Cuban physical education experts worked to integrate athletics into Venezuela’s public health and public education systems.

Bilateral relations between Cuba and Venezuela have expanded over the years to include state-controlled economic development projects in the areas of oil refining, electricity production, tourism, mining, light and heavy industries, and railway systems.

In 2004, Venezuela and Cuba created a bloc called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) that is based on the Cuba-Venezuela model of cooperation and now also includes Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In an interview broadcast on Venezuelan and Cuban television on Sunday, President Chavez said this system of integration was “unprecedented in Latin America and the world.”

He said bilateral cooperation with Cuba has helped his oil-dependent nation boost its long-neglected agricultural sector, diversify its industry, and strengthen its anti-poverty programs.

“The Cuban people have made a great contribution to the Bolivarian Revolution,” said Chavez, referring to his government’s program, which is named after Simon Bolivar, a Latin American independence hero. “Both nations have benefitted from this relationship, respecting the particularities of our respective systems... both revolutions will continue to be consolidated and to mutually support each other,” said Chavez.

The president boasted about Venezuela’s reduction of poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, and economic inequality, and its increase in educational enrollment from primary school through the university under his ten-year administration. He noted that these achievements are recognized by the United Nations and said they are steps toward “21st Century Socialism.”

“We have become the cradle of a new world,” said the president.

Chavez emphasized the role of the US government in impeding this process by supporting a military coup organized by the Venezuelan opposition in April 2002 and by maintaining its blockade against Cuba despite repeated unanimous votes in the United Nations to end the blockade.

“Cuba and Venezuela have united to break the chains of backwardness, and we have helped Cuba to minimize the impact of the blockade imposed by the United States,” Chavez said. “That is why the [US] empire attacked and continues to attack Cuba so much, they are trying to put out the flame,” said the Venezuelan president.

The Venezuelan opposition has strongly criticized the Chavez administration’s cooperation with Cuba. In September, opposition candidates for the Venezuelan National Assembly centered their campaign platforms on ominous warnings that Venezuela was on the road toward a “Castro-communist dictatorship.” Large opposition media outlets regularly state that the increased role of the Venezuelan state in industries such as oil, food, construction, and electricity stifles economic growth and violates the constitutional right to own private property.

The government has responded by asserting that the government is defending the right of Venezuela’s poor to participation in private property ownership by guaranteeing access to basic goods and services.

Venezuela Will PRovide All Aid and Support Necessary

Hugo Chavez Demands End of Military Intervention in Haiti

CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday demanded the withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Haiti, where a cholera epidemic has worsened the humanitarian crisis.

"How long would the military occupation continue in Haiti behind the shield of the UN? With what moral authority can the Haitian people be asked to cease their protests against foreign troops?

Haiti does not want to be Puerto Rico, a yankee neocolony, but that does not matter in the least to the United Nations or the Organization of American States," Chavez wrote in his Sunday column, Las Lineas de Chavez (Chavez' Lines).

According to the statesman, the world cannot remain impassive in face of the Haitian situation.

That tragedy continues to strike hearts, said Chavez, who lamented the death of over 1,000 people from cholera, in the nation devastated by a January earthquake.

The president reaffirmed Caracas' support to Haiti in that space.

"Venezuela will continue providing all aid and support necessary to the Haitian people. We will also speak out to increase efforts in solidarity within UNASUR and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America," Chavez stated.

Toronto Teach-In Discusses Cochabamba Agenda for Climate Justice

Dear Friends,

The November 13 teach-in on climate justice, endorsed by Venezuela We Are With You Coalition, was a great success. More than 125 participants heard 18 presentations from members of 16 different organizations. The teach-in aimed to bring into focus the Cochabamba agenda for social justice and defense of the "rights of Mother Earth," to draw together community groups working on social issues related to climate justice, and to highlight ongoing campaigns for climate justice both in Canada and internationally. The article below summarizing our successful conference was published today at

Toronto Teach-In Discusses Cochabamba Agenda for Climate Justice
November 17, 2010

Activists discuss concepts far removed from the usual media babble about cap-and-trade and carbon offsets -- ideas that are unfamiliar to many on the left
by John Riddell

TORONTO -- An all-day conference on climate justice here November 13 indicated broadening support for the global climate justice movement.
Entitled Lessons from Bolivia: Building a Global Movement for Climate Justice, the conference was endorsed by 35 community organizations, ranging from the Toronto & York District Labour Council to the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Council of Canadians, and York University's Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean.

More than 125 participants heard 18 presentations from members of 16 different organizations.

The conference took as its starting point the decisions of the April 2010 People's Assembly on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Assembly's decisions charted a path toward countering climate change through measures based on social justice and respect for the "rights of nature."

The governments of Bolivia and other less-developed countries have secured the integration of many recommendations of the 30,000 Cochabamba conference participants into United Nations recommendations on climate change. However, an almost total media blackout has ensured that few people here -- including on the left -- are aware of the Cochabamba initiative.

The Toronto conference had to explain concepts far removed from the usual media babble about cap-and-trade and carbon offsets -- ideas that are unfamiliar to many on the left.

Ian Angus, editor of Climate and Capitalism, noted that "the Cochabamba resolutions, and the discussions here today, include many references to Pachamama, Mother Earth. Many of us feel uncomfortable with that language…. I fully understand that response -- but it is wrong. The Indigenous cosmovision … is completely compatible with the militant struggle for social justice we all support, and we can all learn from it." (See Responding to the Cochabamba Challenge)

It was thus fitting that the congress began with ceremonial singing and drumming by the Spirit Wind aboriginal women's group and an explanation of the concept of our obligations to Mother Earth by Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas, professor of indigenous studies at the University of Ottawa.

The central ideas of the Cochabamba conference were discussed in presentations by Angus, Teresa Turner of the Ecosocialist International Network, and Judy Deutsch of Science for Peace and in four workshop sessions.

The keynote address by Erika Duenas of the Bolivian Embassy in Washington DC explained her country's achievements in carrying the Cochabamba agenda into the arena of inter-governmental negotiations on climate change. (See ALBA Declaration) She called for support of the people's intervention that will press for this agenda at the governmental conference on climate change to be held in Cancun, Mexico, November 29--December 10.

A second session consisted of five workshops on different social movements related to the climate justice movement. Three were on well-established arenas of work for ecological justice: water rights, mining, and tar sands. The other two reflected ways in which climate justice relates to central issues of social struggle: "Environment and the World Working Class" and "Environment, Migration, and Racism."

The final session included a summation by Judy Rebick of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity, plus presentations on three projects posed for action by the nascent climate justice movement as a whole.

Julien Lalonde and Brett Rhyno explained plans to hold a People's Assembly on Climate Justice in Toronto December 4.(link)

Raul Burbano of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity reported on efforts by a coalition of social movements to organize a popular consultation during 2011, based on a proposal of the Cochabamba conference.

Michel Lambert, director of the Quebec-based social justice organization Alternatives, announced plans for a Canada-wide climate justice conference to be hosted by Alternatives in Montreal in the spring of 2011.

The teach-in was initiated by Toronto Bolivia Solidarity (link) and co-organized by representatives of Community Solidarity Response--Toronto, Council of Canadians--Toronto, KAIROS, People's Assembly for Climate Justice, Science for Peace, the Toronto Climate Campaign, and others.

ALBA Nations: Nature Is Our Home

ALBA nations declare: Nature has no price!
November 15, 2010

Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela declare: "Nature is our home and is the system of which we form a part, and therefore it has infinite value, but it does not have a price and is not for sale."

Ministers, Authorities of the Ministerial Committee for the Defense of Nature of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Republic of Cuba, Republic of Ecuador, Republic of Nicaragua, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas -- Treaty of Commerce of the People (ALBA-TCP), gathered in the city of La Paz in the Plurinational State of Bolivia, from November 3rd to 5th, 2010.

Considering that:
1. There is within the United Nations is a push to promote the concept of a "green economy" or a "Global Green New Deal"[1] in order to extend capitalism in the economic, social and environmental arenas, in which nature is seen as "capital" for producing tradable environmental goods and services that should then be valued in monetary terms and assigned a price so that they can be commercialized with the purpose of obtaining profits.

2. Studies are being carried out and manipulated, such as the Stern Report on the Economics of Climate Change and the study on the Economy of Ecosystems and Biodiversity,[2] among others, in order to promote the privatization and the mercantilization of nature through the development of markets for environmental services, among other instruments.

3. Those who promote this new form of privatization and mercantilization of nature wish to develop a new kind of property rights which are not exercised over a natural resource in itself, but rather, over the functions offered by particular ecosystems, thus opening up the possibility of commercializing them in the market through certificates, bonds, credits, etc.

4. Under this capitalist conception that seeks only to guarantee benefit for those few who wield economic power: water should be privatized and distributed only to those that can afford to pay for it, forests are only good for capturing emissions and for selling on the carbon market that allows rich countries to avoid reducing emissions within their own territories, and genetic resources must be appropriated and patented for the enjoyment of those who possess modern technology.

Recognizing that:
The right to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life, which has been endorsed by the United Nations and can only be guaranteed through the recognition and defense of the rights of Mother Earth.

Convinced that:
States are responsible for guaranteeing the sovereignty of the peoples over their natural patrimony and natural resources.

We declare:
1. That nature is our home and is the system of which we form a part, and that therefore it has infinite value, but does not have a price and is not for sale.

2. Our commitment to preventing capitalism from continuing to expand in the spheres that are essential to life and nature, being that this is one of the greatest challenges confronting humanity.

3. Our absolute rejection of the privatization, monetization and mercantilization of nature, for it leads to a greater imbalance in the environment and goes against our ethical principles.

4. Our condemnation of unsustainable models of economic growth that are created at the expense of our resources and the sovereignty of our peoples.

5. Only a humanity that is conscious of its present and future responsibilities, and states with the political will to carry out their role, can change the course of history and restore equilibrium in nature and life as a whole.

6. That instead of promoting the privatization of goods and services that come from nature, it is essential to recognize that these have a collective character, and, as such, should be conserved as public goods, respecting the sovereignty of states.

7. It is not the invisible hand of the market that will allow for the recuperation of equilibrium on Mother Earth. Only with the conscious intervention of state and society through policies, public regulations, and the strengthening of public services can the equilibrium of nature be restored.

8. Cancun cannot be another Copenhagen; we hope that accords will be reached in which developed countries truly act according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and effectively assume their obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, without making climate change into a business through the promotion and creation of carbon market mechanisms.

9. That, committed to life, the countries present at this meeting agree to include in our permanent agenda, among other actions, the realization of a referendum on climate change and the promotion of the participation of the peoples of the world.
10. That it is urgent to adopt at the United Nations a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.
[1] Global Green New Deal, 2009
[2] The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Solidarity Brigade to Venezuela!

Join the May Day 2011 solidarity brigade to Venezuela!
April 25th -- May 4th, 2011

The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network invites you to observe first-hand the inspiring Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. The sweeping social changes being carried out by Venezuela's "people's power" movements are radically transforming life for the majority in that country - workers, women, Indigenous people, young people and all those who have suffered the injustices of poverty, exploitation and exclusion that accompany corporate globalisation.

Along the way, this remarkable revolution is showing the rest of the world that a more rational, socially just and sustainable future is possible.

A special feature of the 2011 May Day brigade will be the opportunity it offers to observe the developing workers' participation and workers' control that is a vital part of the Venezuelan revolution, with visits to worker-run factories and cooperatives, and meetings with trade union and community management representatives in a variety of sectors and regions.

The brigadistas will also observe Venezuela's grassroots democracy in action, with visits to the social missions, communal councils and communes. They will meet and speak with grassroots activists in the free, high-quality public health and education services; sustainable development projects; community controlled media; and women's and Indigenous organisations.

Joining the huge May Day rally in Caracas on May 1st will be a another highlight.

This brigade is the 12th solidarity and study tour organised by the AVSN. Participants' reports and photos from previous brigades are available at

Registration and costs
The deadline for registering for the 2011 May Day solidarity brigade is February 28, 2011.

Participants will need to book their own international airfares, but the AVSN can help with advice (please do not book without contacting us to confirm the dates). The AVSN will organise all accommodation, transport and English-Spanish translation for the brigade.

In addition to international airfares, participants will need to budget for around A$1000 to cover all food, transport and accommodation (on a shared basis) during the brigade and the brigade registration fee ($500 for workers or $300 for full-time students/unemployed/pensioners).

For more information about this or future brigades, please email or phone Lisa Macdonald 0413 031 108, Roberto Jorquera 0425 182 994 or John Cleary 0407 500 839.

Support for Bolivia's Global Climate Justice Campaign

Dear Friends,

Venezuela We Are With You Coalition (CVEC) support the efforts of Bolivia's President Evo Morales and the Bolivian people to mobilize the world's people for climate justice. Please come to the Saturday, November 13 teach-in conference initiated by Toronto Bolivia Solidarity and organized by over 10 additional organizations. The endorser list grows everyday.
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Building a Global Movement for Climate Justice:Lessons from Bolivia

Saturday, November 13, Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George St., Room 2118
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Registration 9:30 a.m. (Please pre-register so we may order your lunch; write

Welcome and introduction by chairpersons 10:00 a.m.

SESSION 1 - The Cochabamba Declaration
Theme: In April 2010, the government of Bolivia convened a conference of social movements on global warming in Cochabamba, Bolivia. More than 30,000 participants charted a path toward climate justice and defending the rights of Mother Earth. Presentations to plenary followed by workshops.

Marcelo Saavedra (Bolivia Action Solidarity Network, Ottawa): Our Obligations to Mother Earth
Ian Angus (Climate and Capitalism: Kemptville) Structural Causes and Climate Debt
Teresa Turner (Eco-Socialist International, Guelph): Cochabamba: A People's Conference
Judy Deutsch (Science for Peace): The Time Factor in Climate Change

12:00 Keynote speaker: Erika Duenas (Bolivian Embassy, Washington DC.
12:45 Lunch (provided)

SESSION 2 - 1:30 p.m.
Environmental (In)Justice in Our Communities
Brief presentations by resource persons for workshops on several areas of current climate justice activities (water, mining, tar sands, anti-racism, workers), followed by workshops on each of these themes.

Tara Seucharan (Council of Canadians): Water rights and climate justice
Megan Kinch (Toronto Community Solidarity Response): Mining, extractive industries
David Vasey and Maryam Adrangi (Environmental Justice Toronto): Tar sands and pipelines
Louise Casselman (Public Service Alliance of Canada, Ottawa): Environment and the world working class
No One Is Illegal: Environment, migration, and racism

SESSION 3 - 3 p.m.
Building a Climate Justice AlternativePresentations by Michel Lambert and Judy Rebick, followed by introductions on the People's Assembly for Climate Justice and the People's Referendum and workshops on each of these two topics.

Speakers:Michel Lambert (Alternatives): Climate justice initiatives in Quebec
Judy Rebick (Toronto Bolivia Solidarity): Solidarity with peoples in struggle for climate justice.
Julien Lalonde and Brett Rhyno (People's Assembly for Climate Justice): Toronto solidarity with the Cancun people's intervention. Brief introduction.
Raul Burbano (Toronto Bolivia Solidarity): Toward a people's referendum. Brief introduction.

Adjournment: 5 p.m.

List of Endorsers (partial): Alternatives (Québec),Barrio Nuevo, Bayan, Bolivia Action Solidarity Network, Center for Social Justice, Climate and, Common Frontiers, Community Solidarity Response Toronto, Council of Canadians,, Educators for Peace and Justice, Greenspiration, Health for All, Independent Jewish Voices, Indigenous Environmental Network, KAIROS, Latin American Trade Union Coalition ,Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network, Migrante, No One Is Illegal, OPIRG Toronto, NION, Jews Opposing Zionism; Public Service Alliance of Canada, People’s Assembly for Climate Justice, Protest Barrick, Science for Peace, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Solidarity Response, Students for Free Tibet, Toronto & York Region Labour Council, Toronto Bolivia Solidarity, Toronto Climate Campaign, Toronto Haiti Action Committee, Venezuela We Are With You Coalition

Report from Eyewitness from Toronto

Venezuela's Opposition Suffers Moral Defeat in 2010 Parliamentary Elections

By Raul Burbano
Raul Burbano was an official International Observer in Venezuela's September 26, 2010parliamentary elections. Raul is a member of the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network and the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition.

It was 2:30 a.m. on September 27 when the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, walked into the press conference at the head office of the CNE and announced the first official results of the previous day's Parliamentary Elections.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had once again defeated their opposition and obtained a clear majority of seats in Parliament -- 96 of 165. Although this was not the two-thirds majority that some in the PSUV had hoped for, it was a clear sign that the majority of Venezuelans continue to support the process of transformation that President Hugo Chavez has led over the past ten years. By this time, most local media and International Observers had gone home, while others slouched, partially asleep in their chairs.

The rightist opposition, realizing that they had failed to take control of the Parliament, immediately swung into spin mode, trying to massage the results in their favor. The opposition hailed its win of 65 parliamentary seats as a major setback for the Chavista camp. The international mainstream media parroted reports that Venezuelan's had rejected "Chavismo."

Few media pundits asked why the opposition couldn't win a majority. Judging by media reports, you'd think Venezuela is about the worse place in the world to live. Thus the Brookings Institute: "Private investment and oil production are imploding, GDP has fallen 14% since 2008, and inflation runs at 30 percent." (1) And the New York Times reported (August 2010): "Venezuela is more deadly than Iraq."

And yet, despite this supposed national calamity and government incompetence, the opposition failed to win a simple majority in Parliament. Obviously, the majority of the Venezuelan people see past the façade of the oppositions unity speeches. History has taught them that the traditional parties and institutions are merely proxies for those living comfortably in Miami.

Opposition's myth of majority popular vote
Early on as people started to digest the results, the opposition moved to conceal their moral loss. Out of the blue the head of the opposition party declared victory, claiming 52% of the national popular vote. The next morning Chavez, on national TV, with the CNE numbers in one hand and a simple map of Venezuela in the other, walked the nation through a simple arithmetic lesson: the PSUV received 5,422,040 votes and the opposition 5,320,175. This is a 50.5% versus 49.5% in favor of the PSUV.

The opposition boasted that they won more seats in this parliamentary election then in the last one held in 2005. What they neglected to explain was that they had boycotted the previous elections in an effort to delegitimize the electoral process. According to Roy Chaderton, a PSUV member elected to the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), the opposition actually lost ground by losing 20 seats in the National Assembly when compared to the last elections in which the opposition participated in.

Opposition lacks true base of support
It is not hard to see that opposition lacks credibility or any substantial support. This can be shown by the fact that since 1999 the PSUV has handed the opposition 14 electoral defeats. By simply looking at the total votes that the opposition received nationally, it's hard to fully appreciate their true lack of popular support. The majority of their support lies within the country's small oligarchy that is aligned with foreign multinationals. According to Eva Golinger, "U.S. agencies fund and design their campaigns, train and build their parties, organize their NGOs, develop their messages, select their candidates and feed them with dollars to ensure survival." (2)

What the opposition lacks in popular support they make up in limitless financial support from the U.S., and a sophisticated network of foreign-trained media outlets. A report published in May 2010 by the Spanish Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue revealed that this year alone, US AID and their proxies invested in the neighborhood of $40 million-$50 million to shape the results of these Parliamentary elections. Their plan was simple: unite, train and guide the opposition in Venezuela because alone they would stand little chance of electoral victory. They aimed to retool their message to appeal to the masses by "development of strategies and messages that addressed the aspirations of low-income voters". (3)

Opposition accuses CNE of fraud
In order to try and discredit the process, the opposition tried to call into question the integrity of the CNE and their electoral process. Surely, with such a highly sophisticated and automated electoral system, there must have been fraud -- why else the delay of several hours in providing the results. So went the opposition's logic. One could suppose the opposition suffers from collective amnesia since they had forgotten that it was the same CNE that in the 2008 constitutional vote awarded them their first and only electoral victory against President Chavez. The CNE attributed this brief delay to the fact that results being too close to call and to the need to wait until the results were "irreversible." However, for the opposition this was just the start of their frantic attempt to rationalize and justify their moral defeat.

The National Electoral Council recognized 150 observers from across the globe to witness Venezuela's democratic process. Each party or alliance participating in the elections was permitted to invite up to 30 partisan witnesses from abroad. In addition, thousands of volunteers selected through a national lottery from across the country participated in the electoral process. These volunteers ran the 12,562 voting centers and 36,773 voting tables across the country ensuring massive and diverse civil participation and oversight.

The final report by the International observers was unanimous, and was summarized by the European Union International Electorate team: "The election process has been unique regarding the democratic guarantees and the voters' individual rights, the respect for vote's secrecy, and the transparency of the process." The opposition quickly realized that the very sophistication, transparency and inclusive nature of the electoral process did not lend itself to charges of fraud or manipulation and moved to their next target.

Opposition accuses Chavez of redrawing electoral districts
Venezuela's electoral system is a complicated hybrid system that includes both first-past-the-post (voto nominal) and proportional representation (voto listo). For these elections, 110 representatives were elected nominally and 52 were elected by party or proportion representation, with the final three going to indigenous legislators, for a total of 165.

The opposition accused the government of redrawing electoral districts favoring rural areas, which are strongholds of the PSUV, and under-representing urban centers where, supposedly, the opposition's base is concentrated. The CNE has acknowledged that "the system has the potential for a degree of disproportional representation" but the reality is that all political parties benefit from it from time to time and in these elections it seems that the opposition benefited the most.(4)
A case in point is the fact that the PSUV received at least 40% of the votes in the states of Zulia, Anzoategui, Nueva Esparta, and Tachira, yet they only received 7 parliamentary seats while the opposition obtained 27 seats. In Zulia, with its heavy populated urban centers, PSUV received only 156,376 votes fewer than the opposition. Yet the PUSV only received 3 seats in parliament, as against the opposition's 12 seats.

By looking at the results for each party individually and their representation in parliament, the picture becomes clear; the PSUV is only party that has massive support. On its own the PSUV won 58% of the seats in parliament with their closest rival, the Democratic Action (AD), taking merely 13% of the seats. No one party has anywhere close to the level of popular support at the national level that the PSUV has. In addition, the PSUV won the majority of the seats in 16 of Venezuela's 23 states.

With such a close margin between the PSUV and the opposition, can Chavez really claim victory? To answer this we need to put it into context and analyze the forces behind the opposition. For these elections, the opposition ("MUD" as they are known by their Spanish acronym) did a great job of combining all the forces of the right into one. Together this right-wing coalition is made up of more than 50 parties with various ideological allegiances. Some parties are only regional and others emerged simply for the elections. One can say the opposition employed the strategy of splitting votes across multiple opposition forces presenting the appearance of popular support. It's hard to envision how this opposition is going to function as a unified block in parliament, let alone present a real opposition to the PSUV.

Even "united," this massive block of opposition failed to achieve an electoral victory. There platform was not solution-based but rather focused on anti-"Chavismo." Their key weapon, as always, was fear, and for that voters punished them.

Biased media coverage
Another baseless claim from the opposition during the election was that the media is controlled and dominated by Chavez. These elections once again showed these claims to be without foundation. The CNE looked at the coverage of both parties on TV and their results were revealing. In paid television advertising slots between July 12 and September 21, 53% were placed by the opposition, while 39% were pro-PSUV, and the rest went to other political parties. In a second study of the two major state-owned television stations and the four private stations, 60.3% of political television advertising was pro-opposition.(5)

PSUV lacks a two-thirds majority in Parliament
Many claim that the PSUV failure to obtain a two-thirds majority in parliament is a major obstacle to Chavez in continuing the process of socialist transformation. In fact, the two-thirds margin is significant for presidential decrees, but its importance as a tool for deepening reform has been greatly exaggerated. Ninety-nine percent of laws are passed by simple majority. The major challenge to internal reform comes from within the party and society itself. If we look at the pace at which reforms have been adopted over the past few years, we see they are limited more by administrative capacity and bureaucracy than legislative. The Financial Times recently added up the value of industries nationalized by the Chavez government over the five years. Outside oil, it came to less than 8% of GDP.(6)

Challenges before the PSUV
Venezuela still has a long way to go before the state is in control of the economy. However, the immediate challenge lies in consolidating what has already been nationalized. Examples of this can be seen in Puerto Ordaz, in state of Bolivar, were this year NorPro, the bauxite processing plant de Venezuela was nationalization.

This factory is a great example of "co-management" -- a "socialist enterprise where workers have taken control and are in the process of transforming the company. However after six months under workers' control the plant struggles to start any production and its machines sit idle.

CVG Aluminio del Caroni,S.A. (ALCASA), an aluminum producing company in the state of Bolivar that was nationalized back 2005. Here workers have been running the plant for several years. Today the plant is losing significant amounts of revenue a year, due to the challenges facing the aluminum industry in the face of global recession. The challenge for them is how to retool the company so they are not just producing raw material for export to feed the capitalist market but rather producing products for their local market. The development of their downstream industry is hampered more by state bureaucracy than by legislative barriers.

The real struggle for participatory democracy in Venezuela does not lie with the traditional establishments of power, but rather lies at the grassroots level where many sectors of society are taking control of their communities. But it's precisely on the streets of Caracas that one is starting to hear dissatisfaction with aspects of nepotism and bureaucracy taking root in the PSUV. Corrupt professional politicians seeping into the ranks of the Bolivarian movement arouse indignation in the PSUV ranks.

The PSUV needs to guard against this and continue to focus on building popular power in the streets, barrios, and rural communities, which has taken form as communal councils and people's cooperatives. Under Chavez these forms of participatory democracy have flourished across the country. Only by energizing and nourishing popular power will Venezuelans see a true transformation of their society to a more egalitarian one based on socialist values.

Good News for Venezuela's Socialist and Pro-Chavez Forces

A New Opportunity for Venezuela's Socialists
by Gregory Wilpert

The good news for Venezuela's socialist and pro-Chavez forces is that while the September 26 National Assembly election might seem to be a disappointing result, because Chavez's party won only about 50% of the popular vote, it is actually quite impressive. That is, after nearly 12 years in government and after two particularly bad years, in which the economy shrank, in which there were numerous blackouts due to a severe drought and a lack of hydroelectric power, in which crime seemed to reach new highs, and in which government mismanagement caused tens of thousands of tons of food to rot, it is actually rather impressive that about 50% of the population would vote for Chavez's party. This represents a new opportunity for the governing socialists to learn from past errors and to move forward in their program to construct 21st century socialism.

On a district-by-district basis, this result translated into giving Venezuela's governing party, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), 98 seats in the National Assembly (AN), to the 65 seats of the opposition coalition MUD (Table of Democratic Unity) (with two going to the independent party PPT). The opposition thus achieved its goal of preventing a two-thirds majority for the PSUV. Thus, given their near complete absence in the previous AN, this result also represents a comeback for the once moribund opposition.

Why "only" 49% of the vote and 59% of the legislators?
Chavez's critics now argue that the PSUV's new 59% majority in the National Assembly, which is 9 points higher than its popular vote, is proof of an unfair electoral system. In particular, they point to a new electoral suffrage law that was passed in 2009, which weakened the previously existing proportional representation system. The change is a bit complicated, but given that this has become a major issue in the international media, it is worth explaining.

First of all, Venezuela has a mixed voting system, which gives 30% or 52 out of 165 seats in the National Assembly to statewide proportional party representation and the other 113 seats to directly elected electoral district representatives. Voters thus have two types of votes, one for a state party list of candidates and another for one to three individual electoral district representatives (the number of district representatives depends on the size of the district). For the 2000 and 2005 national assembly elections the electoral law stipulated that the statewide party list vote (Venezuela has 26 federal states) should be considered in conjunction with the direct candidate votes, so that if a party wins a direct representative in that state, it would receive one less representative via the party list.[1] This system, which is modeled on Germany's, guarantees that small parties could be represented in the legislature even if they did not win any directly elected district representatives, as long as they got over a certain percentage of the statewide party list vote.

However, already in 2000, an opposition governor of Yaracuy state discovered that if you set up two different parties that are in alliance and have one of the parties run only on the direct vote part of the ballot and the other only on the proportional vote of the ballot, then this alliance can significantly increase its number of representatives, if these parties are likely to receive a larger proportion of the vote than any other party.[2] In effect, a way was found to game the system that favors a dominant party or alliance. In 2005 Chavez's governing party, the MVR picked up this trick and created a new allied party, the UVE, which ran only on the proportional part of the ballot, while the MVR ran only on the direct part. Subsequently, the Supreme Court denied a constitutional challenge to the practice, saying that since the constitution does not specify the method for proportional representation, parties cannot be prohibited from forming this type of alliance.[3] In the end, the opposition boycotted the 2005 National Assembly election and the issue became moot, since Chavez's supporters won 100% of the National Assembly representatives.

In 2009 the National Assembly passed a new electoral suffrage law, which eliminated the provision that previously had caused direct representatives to count against the proportional representatives a party could have won.[4] In short, the direct vote and the proportional vote would be counted separately and the winning candidates adjudicated separately. This made the trick of running two allied parties unnecessary. Also, the new law lowered the number of proportional representatives from 40% of the National Assembly to 30%. As a result, proportional representation in the National Assembly was reduced significantly and now mainly guarantees that an opposition party that does not win candidates via the direct representative vote, may at least win a few proportional representatives.

In the case of the Sept 26 vote, if it were not for the proportional part of the ballot, the opposition would have won 33% of the Assembly, instead of 39%. However, if the old electoral suffrage law had been in effect on Sept. 26, the opposition would have won 45% of the seats, 6 percentage points or 10 seats more. Given that this would not have changed the PSUV's absolute majority in the Assembly, this would not have made a significant difference.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is the implication that Venezuela's electoral system is somehow "rigged" against the opposition. The fact is, Venezuela's legislature (even before the 1999 constitution) has always slightly over-represented rural areas, so as to ensure that these areas would not be completely dominated by the more populous urban interests. It just happens to be the case that Chavez is far more popular in rural electoral districts than in urban ones. It is perfectly legitimate to debate whether such an overrepresentation is wrong, but one must keep in mind that this is not an invention of the Chavez government.

Also, it is quite possible that if party A has particularly many voters in a few districts and party B has its voters more evenly divided throughout the country, but always outnumbering its rival party, then B will end up winning far more districts than A, even though their national level of support is more or less the same. For example, this is what happens quite often in Britain, where the Labour Party won 55% of the seats in 2005 with only 37% of the vote. In such a system it is even theoretically possible to have a minority of the popular vote and still win a majority of the seats.

As for the accusation that electoral districts have been changed to give the PSUV more votes, even opposition supporters argue that these changes have been minimal.[5] Certainly they have not come even close to the gerrymandering seen in some congressional districts in the U.S.[6]

Unfair Media Advantage?
Another common accusation against the Chavez government has been that it has an unfair media advantage because the government controls more and more media outlets. Indeed, many new state-run or state-funded media outlets have been created in the past few years, such as Telesur, National Assembly TV (ANTV), Avila TV, Vive, and Tves. However, even combined, their audience share does not come close to that of the private TV stations. For example, in the battle for news and politics viewers, the private hard-line opposition-oriented Globovision usually reaches twice the audience share as the state-run VTV during prime time.[7]

Also, judging from the persistent slew of insults and vitriol that Teodoro Petkoff and Marta Colomina (perhaps the two most prominent opposition commentators, in print and in radio, respectively), among many others, continue to launch against Chavez every day, it would seem that none of the recent high-profile corruption accusations against opposition-oriented business people had an effect on freedom of speech in Venezuela.

The Power of the National Assembly
It should thus come as no surprise that in a year in which the government was facing multiple crises (economic, electric, crime, and mismanagement of state food distribution) that the oppositional media would be able to run with these issues and make important inroads into Chavez's popularity. Polls in early 2010 showed Chavez's popularity dropping from a high of nearly 70% in May, 2008,[8] to perhaps just under 50% in early 2010. However, as the economy gradually recovered in the in mid 2010, Chavez's popularity recovered too. Another reason for this increase in popularity was that Chavez went into full campaign mode and started inaugurating new industrial centers, health centers, and new social programs (such as a new credit card called, "Buen Vivir" -- good living).

The reason that Chavez made such an all-out effort is that Venezuela's National Assembly is more important and powerful than most people realize, since most see in Venezuela a very presidentialist political system. The fact is, though, Venezuela's National Assembly is arguably more powerful than the U.S. Congress. Not only does the President not have the right to veto legislation, but the AN appoints all members to three of the other four branches of government: the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Comptroller General, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, and the National Electoral Council. Also, the AN has the power to dismiss Ministers and the Vice-President.

To complicate matters further, many laws (laws that set the framework for state institutions and for other laws, so-called "organic" laws) require a two-thirds majority, including many of the appointments to the other branches of government. This means that losing a two-thirds majority in the AN will cause a serious problem for the Chavez government, since it either cannot pass organic laws and make key appointments, or it will have to negotiate with the opposition. The more likely result, though, will be paralysis in such cases, which is what happened frequently during the 2000-2005 legislative period, when opposition and Chavista forces were nearly evenly matched in the AN.

Castro-Communism Versus Fascist Capitalism
The September 26 election cements the comeback of the opposition and reflects a temporary weakening of the Chavez government. Following a failed coup (2002), an oil industry shutdown (2003), and the boycott of the last AN elections (2005), the opposition is gradually reintegrating itself into Venezuelan political life, with its participation in the 2006 presidential election, in the 2008 regional election, and in this AN election. Also, with the formation of a new unified alliance (the MUD), the opposition appears to be more united than in the past. However, it still has to overcome some key obstacles if it is to become more effective in combating Chavez. For one, it would have to abstain from accepting money from foreign sources. According to a recent report opposition-affiliated groups have received tens of millions of dollars in the past year.[9]

Second, the opposition would have to become more democratic by holding primary elections for its candidates as well as elections for its party leaders. For the recent AN election the opposition held primaries in only 18% of the electoral districts, while the PSUV held primaries in all electoral districts.

As long as the Bolivarian Revolution is beginning to show signs of wearing out (such as in poorly executed social programs) and difficulties in overcoming key problems of the past year (particularly the economic crisis and crime), the opposition will have it easier. Still, in Venezuela's barrios and in the countryside people continue to feel loyalty to their "Commandante" Chavez. The land reform, the communal councils that give citizens more power in their communities, and the many social programs are highly valued in these sectors. Although many are frustrated that many day-to-day problems remain unresolved, by and large they do not turn to the opposition, which still largely consists of the country's tired old elite. They simply do not believe the opposition when it claims that Chavez is taking the country towards "Castro-Communism." On the other hand, it is doubtful that they believe Chavez's warning that the opposition represents capitalist fascism.

In other words, Venezuela is a country in which politics is extremely polarized but in which the population is not. According to opinion surveys a little over a third of the population consists of die-hard Chavez supporters and a little under a third consists of die-hard Chavez opponents. The third third tends to be undecided and is often considered to consist of "ni-nis" (neither with Chavez nor against Chavez). This is the part of the population that Chavez and the opposition must try to win over.

One party has now finally tried to capitalize on this segment of the population by rejecting both Chavez and the opposition. This party, the PPT (Fatherland for All), which for a long time supported Chavez, split from the pro-Chavez coalition earlier this year and attempted, with the help of the popular governor of Lara state, Henri Falcon, to constitute a third force in the country. In a surprise to many analysts, this effort appears to have ended in failure now, since the PPT picked up only two AN representatives and none in Lara. Apparently the PPT took votes mostly from the opposition, which would suggest that voter loyalty to Chavez is stronger than to the opposition. In effect, it seems that the public's non-polarization still does not carry over to the political sphere, especially since the winner-take-all voting system makes it more difficult for third parties.

Despite the relatively equal vote count for the two remaining sides, the opposition is now claiming that this is the beginning of the end of Chavez. Indeed, this would seem plausible if one considers that Chavez enjoyed a high point of popularity in 2006, shortly after his reelection with 63% of the vote. On the other hand, Chavez has been declared politically dead before only to reemerge stronger, such as after 2002/2003, after the coup attempt and the oil industry shutdown. Much can still happen in the next two years until the next presidential election in 2012, for which Chavez has already announced his candidacy.

Chavez's main program for the time until the next election is to continue the effort to establish "21st century socialism" in Venezuela. Exactly what this means is still not entirely clear, but there are a few indications. Towards the top of the agenda is a new labor law, which could democratize not only state-owned enterprises, but private enterprises too, via workers' councils. Also, the role of communal councils is to be strengthened, particularly on the citywide and perhaps even statewide and national levels. With regard to the economy the government intends to expand its industrial planning effort and to support strategic private industries so that the country becomes less dependent on oil export earnings.

These efforts, however, will be complicated due to the PSUV's loss of its two-thirds majority in the AN. The real danger, though, is that Chavez and his supporters will interpret their 59% AN majority as an undisputed triumph and that they will forget, as a result, that barely 50% of Venezuelans voted for the PSUV. The governing party might thereby fail to reflect on the reasons for this rather narrow victory and miss a crucial opportunity to address these reasons.

Many in Venezuela, both in the opposition and in the more moderate wing of the PSUV are trying to convince Chavez that the reason for the narrow loss is due to his too radical approach and that he needs to "slow down" and "moderate". There is little indication, though, that this is the reason Chavez's popularity has suffered in the past year.

Rather, the reasons are to be found with basic problems, such as unemployment, insecurity, and poor government services. This is what most surveys and casual conversations in the barrios indicate. Also, given that most Venezuelans (especially the poor) have so far reacted positively to Chavez's larger program of deepening the democratization of the economy, of the media, and of the polity, there is every reason to believe that they will continue to support him if he follows this program. If Chavez and his supporters decisively address the basic issues as well as the strategic programmatic ones, then[10] Chavez has an excellent chance of being reelected in 2012 and thereby reversing the opposition's recent comeback.

[1] For example, if a state has 10 direct representatives and 3 party list representatives and party A wins 6 of the direct representatives and 60% of the party list vote, then it would get no party list candidates for that state because its direct representatives count against the 2 party list representatives it could have in the proportional vote. The 3 party list representatives would then go to the next party that did not win a sufficient number of direct representatives to fill its quota of proportional representatives.
[2] The reason for this is that if one of those parties wins a representative on the direct portion of the ballot, there are no representatives on the proportional part of the ballot that it could lose due to this win. Instead, the proportional representatives of the allied party get all of the seats that they are due to receive since they have no direct candidates.
[3] See: "Venezuela's Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to December Vote" by Gregory Wilpert, October 29, 2005 in ( [4])
[4] See: "Venezuela Passes New Electoral Law," by Tamara Pearson, August 3, 2009 in ( [5])
[5] For example, the opposition blogger Francisco Toro of Caracas Chronicles wrote back in February 2010, "To my mind, what's interesting is that CNE wasn't really as aggressive as they might have been. If they'd really put their minds to it - if, say, they'd carved up crazy circuits that cross state lines or split parroquias in two - they could've done much which I mean much, much worse."

( [6])
[6] See: [7]
[7] In March, 2010, at 9pm, Globovision had 1.29 audience share and VTV had 0.68. See: [8]
[8] "Chavez Approval Rating 68.8%, Recent Venezuelan Poll Shows," by James Suggett, May 13, 2008, ( [9])
[9] See: "U.S. Interference in Venezuelan Elections," by Eva Golinger, September 10, 2010 ( [10])