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.