Background to 'Venezuela Profile of a People's Movement'

Federico Fuentes, Caracas
20 February 2010

Decisive battles between the forces of revolution and counter-revolution loom on the horizon in Venezuela.

The campaign for the September 26 National Assembly elections will be a crucial battle between the supporters of socialist President Hugo Chavez and the US-backed right-wing opposition.

But these battles, part of the class struggle between the poor majority and the capitalist elite, will be fought more in the streets than at the ballot box.

So far this year, there has been an escalation of fascist demonstrations by violent opposition student groups; the continued selective assassination of union and peasant leaders by right-wing paramilitaries; and an intensified private media campaign presenting a picture of a debilitated government in crisis - and on its way out.

Chavez warned on January 29: "If they initiate an extremely violent offensive, that obliges us to take firm action - something I do not recommend they do - our response will wipe them out."

The comment came the day after two students were killed and 21 police suffered bullet wounds in confrontations that rocked the city of Merida.

Chavez challenged the opposition to follow the constitutional road and a recall referendum on his presidential mandate if they truly believe people no longer support him.

Under the democratic constitution adopted in 1999, a recall referendum can be called on any elected official if 20% of the electorate sign a petition calling for one.

He said if the capitalists continued down the road of confrontation, he would "accelerate the revolution", which has declared "21st century socialism" as its goal.


The stepped-up campaign of destabilisation is part of the regional offensive launched by the opposition's masters in Washington.

Last year, the US installed new military bases in Colombia and Panama, reactivated the US Navy Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American waters, and helped organise a military coup that toppled the left-wing Manuel Zelaya government in Honduras.

This year, the US has occupied Haiti with 15,000 soldiers after the January 12 earthquake and US warplanes have been caught violating Venezuela's airspace.

A February 2 report from US National Director of Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, labelled Venezuela the "leading anti-US regional force" - placing the Chavez government in Washington's crosshairs.

A US military invasion cannot be ruled out, but the main aim of the US military build-up and provocations is to apply pressure on those sections of Venezuela's Armed Forces, and others in the pro-Chavez camp, that would prefer to put the brakes on the revolutionary process to avoid a confrontation.

This is occurring hand-in-hand with a campaign of media lies, combining claims that Chavez's popularity is rapidly declining with rumours of dissent in the military and government.

The US and Venezuelan elite hope to isolate and ultimately, remove Chavez.

The campaign is similar to the one unleashed in 2007 to defeat Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms, which would have created a legal framework for greater attacks on capital to the benefit of the poor majority but were narrowly defeated in a referendum.

The opposition hopes to fracture Chavez's support base - the poor majority and the armed forces - and win a majority in the National Assembly (with which it is likely to move to impeach Chavez).

At the very least, the opposition is seeking to stop pro-revolution forces from winning a two-thirds majority in the assembly, which would restrict the ease with which the Chavistas could pass legislation. The current assembly has a large pro-Chavez majority as a result of the opposition boycotting the 2005 poll.

Revolution advances

The global economic crisis is hitting Venezuela harder than the government initially hoped. Problems in the electricity sector, among others, are also causing strain.

The government's campaign to raise awareness about the effects of climate change and wasteful usage has minimised the impact of the opposition and private media campaign to blame the government for the problems in the electricity and water sectors.

Far from fulfilling right-wing predictions that falling oil prices would result in a fall of the government's fortunes, Chavez has continued his push to redistribute wealth to the poor - and increased moves against capital and corruption.

This is occurring alongside important street mobilisations supporting the government (ignored by the international media, which gave prominent coverage to small opposition student riots).

There are new steps to increase the transfer of power to the people, such as incorporating the grassroots communal councils further into governing structures.

In November, Chavez announced interventions into eight banks found to be involved in corrupt dealings. A majority were nationalised and merged with a state bank to form the Bicentenary Bank.

Together with the Bank of Venezuela, nationalised in 2007, the state now controls 25% of the banking sector - the largest single bloc.

Nearly 30 bankers were charged and face trial over the corruption allegations. Significantly, a number of these had been closely aligned with the government.

One of them, Ricardo Fernandez Barrueco, was a relatively unknown entrepreneur in the food sector who rose up the ranks of the business elite to own four banks and 29 Venezuelan companies.

Much of this meteoric rise was due to his ties with a section of the Chavez government, which provided him with generous contracts to supply government-subsidised Mercal food stores with produce and transportation.

This earned Fernandez the nickname the "Czar of Mercal".

The arrest of another banker over corruption allegations, Arne Chacon, led to the resignation of his brother Jessie Chacon as Chavez's science minister.

State institutions, militants of the Chavez-led United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and the National Guard have also moved to tackle price speculation following the January 8 decision to devalue the local currency, the bolivar.

More than 1000 shops were temporary shutdown for price speculation in the first week after the announcement.

On February 13, Chavez announced that the government had come to an agreement with French company Casino to buy out 80% of its shares in the CADA supermarket chain, which has 35 outlets across the country.

Together with the recently nationalised Exito supermarket chain and the mass importation of various essential goods, the government is moving to take up a much larger share of the retail and distribution sector.

The bolivar devaluation means imported goods have become more expensive, lowering workers' purchasing power. To compensate, the government decreed in January a 25% increase in the minimum wage (10% to be implemented in March and 15% in September).

Government sources told Green Left Weekly it is also studying a further wage increase and steps towards establishing a state monopoly over foreign trade.

Grassroots Organising

Despite the violent protests and slander campaign, a January poll by the Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis (IVAD - generally accepted as one of Venezuela's least biased polling companies) found more than 58% of Venezuelans continue to approve of Chavez's presidency.

The same poll also found 41.5% believed the opposition should have a National Assembly majority, compared to 49.5% who didn't.

Some 32.6% said they would vote for pro-revolution candidates, 20.8% for the opposition and an important 33.1% for "independents".

That 33.1% will undoubtedly shrink by September. The question is whether this section will abstain (as in the 2007 constitutional referendum) or the revolutionary forces can organise themselves to win them over and deal a decisive blow to the right.

Three massive pro-revolution demonstrations have been held already this year, dwarfing the small, but violent, opposition protests.

A new grouping of revolutionary youth organsations, the Bicentenary National Youth Front, has also been created to organise the pro-revolution majority of youth and students.

The injection of organised youth into the revolution is vital for its future. This is needed, as Chavez noted in his February 12 speech to a mass demonstration of students in Caracas, to tackle the serious problems of reformism and bureaucratism that hamper the revolution.

Chavez has argued against those sectors of the revolutionary camp that insist it is possible to advance by strengthening the private sector and wooing capitalists. Chavez has repeatedly said the "national bourgeoisie" has no interest in advancing the process of change.

Chavez has emphasised the "class struggle" is at the heart of this process.

He said it was vital to combat the inefficiency and bureaucracy of the state structures inherited from previous governments that hold back and sabotage the process. "We have to finish off demolishing the old structures of the bourgeois state and create the new structures of the proletarian state."

To help achieve this, the government has encouraged the creation of 184 communes across Venezuela. Communes are made up of a number of communal councils and other social organisations, bodies directly run and controlled by local communities.

Chavez has referred to the communes as the "building blocks" of the new state, in which power is intended to be progressively transferred to the organised people.

The recent creation of peasant militias, organised for self-defence by poor farmers against large landowner violence, is also important.

However, the biggest challenge is the continued construction of the PSUV, a mass party with millions of still largely passive members, as a revolutionary instrument of the masses.

In its extraordinary congress, which began in November and continues meeting on weekends until April, debates are occurring among the 772 elected delegates. Differences have arisen between those who support a more moderate reformist approach and those arguing for a revolutionary path.

An important debate is over whether to back Chavez's call for a new international organisation to unite revolutionary forces globally to strengthen the fight for "socialism of the 21th century".

The debates also included whether party members will elect National Assembly candidates, or whether this important decision would be left in the hands of a select committee (as more conservative forces preferred).

After the decision to hold primary elections for candidates was announced, Chavez said on February 11: "I have confidence in the people, I have confidence in the grassroots, they will not defraud us."

[Federico Fuentes is a member of the Green Left Weekly Caracas

Three days of Solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution!
1. Thurs Feb 25: "Venezuelan Democracy vs Harper Hypocrisy" Rally.
2. Fri Feb 26: Public Forum: "Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution-- The Second Decade : Profile of a People's Movement".
3. Sat Feb 27: All day Teach-In to build solidarity with Venezuela. Register at

1. Solidarity Rally!
Venezuelan Democracy vs. Harper Conservative Hypocrisy
Thursday, February 25 at 5pm
365 Bloor St. East (at Sherbourne)Toronto
In front of Venezuelan Consulate

Conservative Minister for the Americas Peter Kent has publicly criticized Venezuela as 'undemocratic' for applying its laws to TV and radio broadcasters. Kent and his fellow Harper Conservatives shouldn't speak about democracy when it has closed parliament for months to avoid being investigated for complicity in handing over detainees to torture in Afghanistan.

People in Toronto, Montreal and Caracas, Venezuela will be demonstrating in support of the democratic people's movement in Venezuela and exposing the hypocrisy of the Harper Conservatives who wage war in Afghanistan while avoiding public accountability at home.
2. Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution-- The Second Decade
Profile of a People's Movement

Friday, February 26, 7 p.m.
Koffler House Rom 108
569 Spadina Ave. (South of Harbord)

** During the eleven years since Hugo Chavez was elected as President of Venezuela, his country has become a focus of hope and controversy on a world scale.

At the Copenhagen climate conference, Venezuela helped lead the countries calling for international social and ecological justice.
** Throughout these years, popular participation and control has been the strength and promise of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution.
** Federico Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke, both well-known writers on Venezuela, will give, their participants' report on the gains of grassroots movements and the challenge they face. They will also discuss the dangers that Venezuela faces against U.S. intervention

Venezuela’s Revolution – The Second Decade

The challenge of solidarity: Attend these events to participate, to learn and to help all of us rise to the challenge of solidarity -- building a movement against imperialism.
Venezuela Teach-In
Pre- registration:

Saturday, Feb 27, Registration 9:30
Sidney Smith Building, Room 2117

100 St.George St. (North of Harbord St.)Toronto
Registration: 9:30 a.m.
Donation: $10 or what you can
Opening Session 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Greetings from Venezuelan consulate.
Opening address: Ten years of the Bolivarian revolution, covering Venezuelan history, the current context, and the challenge that Venezuela poses.

Workshops for the morning, from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
1. Communal councils and grassroots organizing and the new state.
2. Imperialism's economic crisis and Latin America.
3. Workers' Control and the Unions.
4. Colombia/Venezuela/seven U.S. bases and more.
5. People-to-people solidarity.

Vegetarian Lunch 1 p.m.-2 p.m.

Workshops for the afternoon from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
1. ALBA and Its Challenge to Neoliberalism.
2. Venezuela and World Solidarity. 3. Women and the Venezuelan revolution.
4. Endogenous development and oil
5. Alternative media in Venezuela and Canada
Final plenary: Latin American Solidarity and the Canadian Left

Organized by: OPIRG, Centre for Social Justice, Barrio Nuevo, Hands Off Venezuela/Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle, Latin America Solidarity Network–Toronto, Socialist Project, Venezuela We Are With You Coalition, Latin@s Canada. Co-sponsored by Toronto, Bolivia Solidarity, Toronto Haiti Action Committee

For further information, email


Reflections by Comrade Fidel
The Bolivarian Revolution and the Antilles

I was fond of History, as much as almost any other kid. And I also liked wars, a sort of culture that society used to sow among boys. All the toys we were given were toy guns.

Being a child I was sent to a city where no one ever took me to the movies. Television did not exist then, and in the house where I lived there was no radio. Imagination was my only resort.

At my first school as a boarding student I read in wonderment about the Flood and Noah's Ark. Afterwards I realized that this was perhaps a vestige of the last climate change in the history of our species that humanity preserved. Very likely this was the end of the last glacial period, which supposedly took place thousands of years ago.

As was to be expected, further on I eagerly read the history of Alexander, Cesar, Hannibal, Bonaparte and, of course, every other book that fell into my hands about Maceo, Gomez, Agramonte and other great soldiers who fought for our independence. I was not cultured enough to understand what was that which underlay history.

Jose Marti and Bolivar
Later on I focused on Marti. As a matter of fact, it is to him that I owe my patriotic feelings and the profound belief that "Homeland is humanity." The audacity , beauty, courage and ethics of his ideas helped me to become what I think I am: a revolutionary.

If you don't share Marti's ideas, you can not share Bolivar's. If you don't share Marti's and Bolivar's ideas, you can not be a Marxist. And if you don't share Marti's and Bolivar's ideas and you are not a Marxist, you cannot be an anti-imperialist. In our times it was impossible to conceive a Revolution in Cuba without sharing Marti's and Bolivar's ideas, being a Marxist and an anti-imperialist
Hardly two centuries ago, in the 1820s , Bolivar had intended to send an expedition commanded by Sucre to liberate Cuba , which so badly needed it, for it was a Spanish colony devoted only to the production of sugar and coffee, where 300 000 slaves worked for their white masters.

After Cuba's independence attempts failed , the country was turned into a neo-colony. Te full dignity of man could never be achieved without a Revolution that could put an end to the exploitation of man by man.

"I want the first law of our Republic to be Cubans' cult to the full dignity of man."

Marti's ideas inspired the courage and beliefs that made our Movement to attack the Moncada military garrison, an action that would have never even crossed our minds hadn't we shared the ideas of other great thinkers such as Marx and Lenin, which made us realize and understand the very different realities of the new times we were living in.

For centuries, progress and development served to justify the hateful latifundia system and slave labor that were preceded by the extermination of the aboriginal inhabitants of these islands.

Marti said something wonderful about Bolivar , which was worthy of his glorious life:

"…what he did not do, still remains undone today: because Bolivar still has things to do in the Americas ."

"…tell me, Venezuela , how I could best serve you , for in me you have a son."

In Venezuela, the colonial power - as other colonial powers did in the Antilles- planted sugar cane, coffee, cocoa and also brought in African men and women to work as slaves. The heroic resistance put up by its indigenous people , helped by Nature and the extension of the Venezuelan territory, forbid the annihilation of the aboriginal communities.

Except for one part to the North of the hemisphere, the huge territory of Our America was in the hands of two kings of the Iberian Peninsula.

Plundering of Latin America
We can categorically assert that, for centuries, our countries and the fruits of their peoples' labor have been plundered - and continue to be so- by the big transnationals and the oligarchies to their service.

Through the 19th and the 20th centuries , that is, during almost 200 years after the formal independence of Ibero-America, nothing has essentially changed. After the thirteen British colonies rebelled, the United States expanded across the West and the South. It bought Louisiana and Florida, robbed Mexico of more than half its territory, intervened in Central America and took control of the zone where the future Panama Canal was to be built, which would connect the big oceans that lay to the East and the West of the continent through the area where Bolivar intended to found the capital of the biggest republic of all, the one resulting from the independence of the American nations.

Back in those times, oil and ethanol were not marketed in the world; the WTO did not exist either. Sugar cane, cotton and corn were grown with slave work. The machines were still to be invented. Industrialization pushed forward with the use of coal.

Wars propelled civilization, and civilization propelled wars. The latter changed in nature and became all the more terrible. Finally they turned into world conflicts.

We were at last a civilized world. As a matter of principle, we even believe we are.
But we do not know what to do with the civilization that we achieved. Human beings have equipped themselves with nuclear weapons of unconceivable accuracy and annihilating power, while taking a shameful step back from a moral and political point of view. Socially and politically we are more underdeveloped than ever. Robots are replacing soldiers; media are replacing educators and governments start to be overtaken by events without knowing what to do. The desperation that prevails among many international political leaders is an evidence of their powerlessness to solve the many problems that pile up in their working offices and at the ever more frequent international meetings.

Under such circumstances , an unprecedented catastrophe has taken place in Haiti, while at the opposite side of the planet three wars and an arms race continue to evolve in the midst of the economic crisis and ever-growing conflicts, which absorb more tan 2.5 per cent of the world's GDP, a share that will allow all Third World countries to develop in a short period of time and perhaps avoid the climate change, by devoting the economic and scientific resources indispensable to meet that goal.

The credibility of the world's community has just been dealt a hard blow at Copenhagen, and our species is not showing its ability to survive.

Venezuela's Role in Haiti
Haiti 's tragedy makes me address this point of view, based on what Venezuela has done for all Caribbean nations. While in Montreal the big financial institutions are hesitant about what should be done in Haiti, Venezuela has not hesitated for a second to condone Haiti's economic debt amounting to 167 million dollars.

For almost a century , the biggest transnationals extracted and exported the Venezuelan oil at ludicrous prices. For decades Venezuela was the world's biggest oil exporting country..

It is well known that when the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars in its genocidal war against Vietnam, which killed and maimed millions in that heroic nation, it also unilaterally cancelled the Bretton-Woods agreement and suspended the gold standard, as was stated under such agreement, thus burdening the world's economy with the cost of that dirty war. The US currency devalued and the Caribbean countries' hard currency revenues were not enough to pay for the oil. Their economies were based on tourism and the export of sugar, coffee, cocoa and other agricultural products. A dumbfounding blow was lingering upon the Caribbean States economies, except for two of them which were energy exporters.

Other developed countries eliminated tariff preferences for Caribbean agricultural export products, such as banana. Venezuela had an unprecedented gesture: it guaranteed a reliable oil supply and special payment facilities for most of these countries.

However, no one ever bothered about the fate of those peoples. Hadn't it been for the Bolivarian Republic, a terrible crisis would have hit the independent Caribbean States , with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. In the case of Cuba , after the collapse of the USSR, the Bolivarian government promoted an extraordinary growth in trade between the two countries , including the trade in goods and services, which enabled us to struggle on through one of the toughest periods of our glorious revolutionary history.

The US best ally --and also the most abject and vile people's enemy- was the fake and pretender Romulo Betancourt, who was Venezuela 's president-elect at the time when the Revolution triumphed in Cuba in 1959.

He was the main accomplice to the pirate attacks, terrorist actions , aggressions and economic blockade against our homeland.

The Bolivarian Revolution finally broke out when our America needed it the most.

After being invited to travel to Caracas by Hugo Chavez, the ALBA members committed to offer maximum support to the Haitian people at the saddest moment in the history of that legendary nation which carried out the first victorious social Revolution in the history of the world. That was the time when hundreds of thousands of Africans rebelled and created a Republic in Haiti, thousands of miles away from their home countries, and carried out one of the most glorious revolutionary actions in this hemisphere. In Haiti there is a mix of Black, Indian and White blood. The Republic was born from the ideas of equity, justice and freedom for all human beings.

Ten years ago, when tens of thousands of lives were lost in the Caribbean and Central America as a result of the tragedy caused by hurricane Mitch, in Cuba the ELAM was founded to train the Latin American and Caribbean physicians who would some day be able to save millions of lives. But first and foremost they were to become an example in the noble exercise of the medical profession. Tens of Venezuelan and other Latin American youths graduated from ELAM will be working hand in hand with Cubans in Haiti. From everywhere in the continent we have received news about many comrades who studied at ELAM, who have expressed their willingness to cooperate with them in the noble task of saving the lives of children, women, men, youths and senior citizens.

There will be hundreds of field hospitals, rehabilitation centers and hospitals, where more than one thousand doctors and students of the last years of the specialty of Medicine from Haiti, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile and other sister nations will be offering their services. We already have the honor of being able to count on a group of American doctors who also studied at ELAM. We are ready to cooperate with those countries and institutions that may be willing to take part in these efforts to offer medical services in Haiti.

Venezuela has already donated tents, medical equipment, medicines and foodstuffs. The Haitian government has offered its full cooperation and support to this efforts aimed at offering health care at no cost to as many Haitians as possible. This will be a comfort to everybody in the midst of the biggest tragedy that has ever occurred in our hemisphere.

Fidel Castro Ruz
February 7 , 2010, 8:46 p.m