An Update on the Social Determinants of Health in Venezuela

Achievements of Hugo Chavez
by Charles Muntaner, Joan Benach, Maria Paez Victor

While Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez is fighting for his life in Cuba, the liberal press of both sides of the Atlantic (e.g., El Pais”) has not stopped trashing his government. The significance of his victory (12 points ahead of his contender) has yet to be analysed properly, with evidence. It is remarkable that Chávez would win, sick with cancer, outgunned by the local and international media (think of Syriza’s Greece election) and, rarely acknowledged, an electoral map extremely biased towards the middle and upper classes, with geographical barriers and difficult access to Ids for members of the working classes.

One of the main factors for the popularity of the Chávez Government and its landslide victory in this re-election results of October 2012, is the reduction of poverty, made possible because the government took back control of the national petroleum company PDVSA, and has used the abundant oil revenues, not for benefit of a small class of renters as previous governments had done, but to build needed infrastructure and invest in the social services that Venezuelans so sorely needed. During the last ten years, the government has increased social spending by 60.6%, a total of $772 billion [i].

Poverty is not defined solely by lack of income nor is health defined as the lack of illness. Both are correlated and both are multi-factorial, that is, determined by a series of social processes. To make a more objective assessment of the real progress achieved by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela during the last 13 years it is essential to review some of the key available data on the social determinants of health and poverty: education, inequality, jobs and income, health care, food security and social support and services.

With regard to these social determinants of health indicators, Venezuela is now the country in the region with the lowest inequality level (measured by the Gini Coefficient) having reduced inequality by 54%, poverty by 44%. Poverty has been reduced from 70.8% (1996) to 21% (2010). And extreme poverty reduced from 40% (1996) to a very low level of 7.3% (2010). About 20 million people have benefited from anti-poverty programs, called “Misiones” (Up to now, 2.1 million elderly people have received old-age pensions – that is 66% of the population while only 387,000 received pensions before the current government.

Education is a key determinant of both health and poverty and the Bolivarian government has placed a particular emphasis on education allotting it more than 6% of GDP. UNESCO has recognized that illiteracy been eliminated furthermore, Venezuela is the 3rd county in the region whose population reads the most. There is tuition free education from daycare to university; 72% of children attend public daycares and 85% of school age children attend school. There are thousands of new or refurbished schools, including 10 new universities. The country places 2nd in Latin America and 5th in the world with the greatest proportions of university students. In fact, 1 out of every 3 Venezuelans are enrolled in some educational program.[ii] . It is also a great achievement that Venezuela is now tied with Finland as the 5th country with the happiest population in the world.[iii] .

Before the Chavez government in 1998, 21% of the population was malnourished. Venezuela now has established a network of subsidized food distribution including grocery stores and supermarkets. While 90% of the food was imported in 1980, today this is less than 30%. Misión Agro-Venezuela has given out 454,238 credits to rural producers and 39,000 rural producers have received credit in 2012 alone. Five million Venezuelan receive free food, four million of them are children in schools and 6,000 food kitchens feed 900,000 people. The agrarian reform and policies to help agricultural producers have increased domestic food supply. The results of all these food security measures is that today malnourishment is only 5%, and child malnutrition which was 7.7% in 1990 today is at 2.9%. This is an impressive health achievement by any standards.

Some of the most important available data on health care and public health are as following [iv],[v],[vi]:

*infant mortality dropped from 25 per 1000 (1990) to only 13/1000 (2010);
*An outstanding 96% of the population has now access to clean water (one of the goals of the revolution;
*In 1998, there were 18 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, currently there are 58, and the public health system has about 95,000 physicians;
*It took four decades for previous governments to build 5,081 clinics, but in just 13 years the Bolivarian government built 13,721 (a 169.6% increase;
*Barrio Adentro (i.e., primary care program with the help of more than 8,300 Cuban doctors) has approximately saved 1,4 million lives in 7,000 clinics and has given 500 million consultations;
*In 2011 alone, 67,000 Venezuelans received free high cost medicines for 139 pathologies conditions including cancer, hepatitis, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, and others; there are now 34 centres for addictions;
*In 6 years 19,840 homeless have been attended through a special program; and there are practically no children living on the streets;
*Venezuela now has the largest intensive care unit in the region;
*A network of public drugstores sell subsidized medicines in 127 stores with savings of 34-40%;

51,000 people have been treated in Cuba for specialized eye treatment and the eye care program “Mision Milagro” has restored sight to 1.5 million Venezuelans
An example of how the government has tried to respond in a timely fashion to the real needs of its people is the situation that occurred in 2011 when heavy tropical rains left 100,000 people homeless. They were right away sheltered temporarily in all manner of public buildings and hotels and, in one and a half years, the government built 250,000 houses.

The government has obviously not eradicated all social ills, but its people do recognize that, despite any shortcomings and mistakes, it is a government that is on their side, trying to use its resources to meet their needs. Part of this equation is the intense political participation that the Venezuelan democracy stands for, that includes 30,000 communal councils, which determine local social needs and oversee their satisfaction and allows the people to be protagonists of the changes they demand.[vii]

The Venezuelan economy has low debts, high petroleum reserves and high savings, yet Western economists that oppose President Chávez repeat ad nauseam that the Venezuelan economy is not “sustainable” and predict its demise when the oil revenues stop. Ironically they do not hurl these dire predictions to other oil economies such as Canada or Saudi Arabia. They conveniently ignore that Venezuela’s oil reservoir of 500 billion barrels of oil is the largest in the world and consider the social investment of oil revenues a waste or futile endeavour. However these past 13 years, the Bolivarian government has been building up an industrial and agricultural infrastructure that 40 years of previous governments had neglected and its economy continues to get stronger even in the face of a global financial crisis.

An indication of the increasing diversification of the economy is the fact that the State now obtains almost as much revenue from tax collection as from the sale of oil, since it strengthened its capacity for tax collection and wealth redistribution. In just one decade, the State obtained US$ 251,694 million in taxes, more than its petroleum income per annum. Economic milestones these last ten years include reduction in unemployment from 11.3% to 7.7%; doubling the amount of people receiving social insurance benefits, and the public debt has been reduced from 20.7% to 14.3% of GNP and the flourishing of cooperatives has strengthen local endogenous economies. In general, the Venezuelan economy has grown 47.4% in ten years, that is, 4.3% per annum. [viii]. Today many European countries would look jealously at these figures. Economists who studied in detail the Venezuelan economy for years indicate that, “The predictions of economic collapse, balance of payments or debt crises and other gloomy prognostications, as well as many economic forecasts along the way, have repeatedly proven wrong… Venezuela’s current economic growth is sustainable and could continue at the current pace or higher for many years.”[ix]

According to Global Finance and the CIA World Factbook,the Venezuelan economy presents the following indicators.[x]: unemployment rate of 8%; 45,5% government (public) debt as a percent of GDP (by contrast the European Union debt/GDP is 82.5%); and a real GDP growth: GDP per capita is $13,070. In 2011, the Venezuelan economy defied most forecasts by growing 4.2 percent, and was up 5.6 percent in the first half of 2012. It has a debt-to-GDP ratio comfortably below the U.S. and the UK, and stronger than European countries; an inflation rate, an endemic problem during many decades, that has fallen to a four-year low, or 13.7%, over the most recent 2012 quarter. Even The Wall Street Journal reports that Venezuela’s stock exchange is by far the best-performing stock market in the world, reaching an all-time high in October 2012, and Venezuela’s bonds are some of the best performers in emerging markets.

Hugo Chavez’s victory had an impact around the world as he is recognized as having spearheaded radical change not only in his own country but in all Latin America where progressive governments have also been elected, thereby reshaping the global order. The victory was even more significant considering the enormous financial and strategic help that the USA agencies and allies gave to the opposition parties and media. Since 2002, Washington channeled $100 million to opposition groups in Venezuela and this election year alone, distributed US$ 40-50 million there.[xi]

But the Venezuelan people disregarded the barrage of propaganda unleashed against the president by the media that is 95% privately owned and anti-Chavez.[xii] The tide of progressive change in the region has started to build the infrastructure for the first truly independent South America with political integration organizations such as Bank of the South, CELAC, ALBA, PETROSUR, PETROCARIBE, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, TELESUR and thus have demonstrated to the rest of the world that there are, after all, economic and social alternatives in the 21st century.[xiii] Following a different model of development from that of global capitalism in sharp contrast to Europe, debt levels across Latin America are low and falling.

The changes in Venezuela are not abstract. The government of President Chávez has significantly improved the living conditions of Venezuelans and engaged them in dynamic political participation to achieve it [xiv]. This new model of socialist development has had a phenomenal impact all over Latin America, including Colombia of late, and the progressive left of centre governments that are now the majority in the region see in Venezuela the catalyst that that has brought more democracy, national sovereignty and economic and social progress to the region.[xv] No amount of neoliberal rhetoric can dispute these facts. Dozens of opinionated experts can go on forever on whether the Bolivarian Revolution is or is not socialist, whether it is revolutionary or reformist (it is likely to be both), yet at the end of the day these substantial achievements remain. This is what infuriates its opponents the most both inside Venezuela and most notable, from neocolonialist countries. The “objective” and “empiricist” The Economist will not publicize this data, preferring to predict once again the imminent collapse of the Venezuelan economy and El Pais, in Spain, would rather have one of the architects of the Caracazo (the slaughter of 3000 people in Caracas protesting the austerity measures of 1989), the minister of finance of the former government Moises Naim, go on with his anti-Chávez obsession. But none of them can dispute that the UN Human Development Index situates Venezuela in place #61 out of 176 countries having increased 7 places in 10 years.

And that is one more reason why Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution will survive Venezuela’s Socialist leader.
Carles Muntaner is Professor of Nursing, Public Health and Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He has been working on the public health aspects of the Bolivarian Revolution for more than a decade including Muntaner C, Chung H, Mahmood Q and Armada F. “History Is Not Over. The Bolivarian Revolution, Barrio Adentro and Health Care in Venezuela.” In T Ponniah and J Eastwood The Revolution in Venezuela. Harvard: HUP, 2011
María Páez Victor is a Venezuelan sociologist, specializing in health and medicine.
Joan Benach is a professor of Public Health at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. He has collaborated in a number of studies on the public health policies of the Bolivarian Revolution.
[i] Páez Victor, Maria. “Why Do Venezuelan Women Vote for Chavez?” Counterpunch, 24 April 2012
[ii] Venezuela en Noticias, Venezuela en Noticias Venezuela en Noticias, Venezuela en Noticias
[iii] Gallup Poll 2010
[iv] Muntaner C, Chung H, Mahmood Q and Armada F. “History Is Not Over. The Bolivarian Revolution, Barrio Adentro and Health Care in Venezuela.” In T Ponniah and J Eastwood The Revolution in Venezuela. Harvard: HUP, 2011 pp 225-256; see also 4, Muntaner et al 2011, 5, Armada et al 2009; 6, Zakrison et al 2012
[v] Armada, F., Muntaner, C., & Navarro, V. (2001). “Health and social security reforms in latin america: The convergence of the world health organization, the world bank, and transnational corporations.” International Journal of Health Services, 31(4), 729-768.
[vi] Zakrison TL, Armada F, Rai N, Muntaner C. ”The politics of avoidable blindnessin Latin America–surgery, solidarity, and solutions: the case of Misión Milagro.”Int J Health Serv. 2012;42(3):425-37.
[vii] Ismi, Asad. “The Bolivarian Revolution Gives Real Power to the People.” The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor , December 2009/January.
[viii] Carmona, Adrián. “Algunos datos sobre Venezuela”, Rebelión, March 2012
[ix] . Weisbrot, Mark and Johnston, Jake. “Venezuela’s Economic Recovery: Is It Sustainable?” Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, D.C., September 2012.
[x] Hunziker , Robert. “Venezuela and the Wonders of Equality”. October 15th, 2012
[xi] Golinger, Eva. “US$20 million for the Venezuelan Opposition in 2012”,
[xii] Páez Victor, Maria. “Chavez wins Over Powerful Foreign Conglomerate Against Him”, Periódico América Latina, 11 October, 2012
[xiii] Milne,Seumas. “The Chávez Victory Will be Felt Far Beyond Latin America” , Associate Editor, The Guardian, October 9, 2012:
[xiv] Alvarado, Carlos, César Arismendi, Francisco Armada, Gustavo Bergonzoli, Radamés Borroto, Pedro Luis Castellanos, Arachu Castro, Pablo Feal, José Manuel García, Renato d´A. Gusmão, Silvino Hernández, María Esperanza Martínez, Edgar Medina, Wolfram Metzger, Carles Muntaner, Aldo Muñoz, Standard Núñez, Juan Carlos Pérez, and Sarai Vivas. 2006. “Mission Barrio Adentro: The Right to Health and Social Inclusion in Venezuela”. Caracas: PAHO/Venezuela.
[xv] Weisbrot, Mark.”Why Chávez Was Re-elected”. New York Times. Oct 10th 2012

Only Solution to Climate Change: The Economic Model - From Capitalism to Socialism

President Hugo Chávez has undergone successful cancer surgery in Cuba! To celebrate that, we revisit a 2009 interview in which he discusses climate change and President Obama. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman spoke with Chávez at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. He called the summit undemocratic and accused world leaders of only seeking a face-saving agreement. "We must reduce all the emissions that are destroying the planet," said Chávez. "That requires a change in the economic model: we must go from capitalism to socialism."

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spared no criticism of the climate conference in Copenhagen. At a joint news conference he held with the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, on Friday afternoon—this was before President Obama announced the accord—Chávez called the proceedings undemocratic and accused world leaders of only seeking a face-saving agreement. He described President Obama as having won the "Nobel War Prize" and said the world still smelled of sulfur, referring to his comments about President Bush at the United Nations last year.
Well, shortly after the news conference, I caught up with President Chávez for a few minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: You sell more oil to the United States than any country but Canada. Your economy depends on oil, yet you are here at a climate change summit. What’s your proposal?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] The problem is not the oil, but what they do with the oil. The United States is the biggest spender of oil and of all the planet resources. Oil is a very valuable resource for life—electric heaters. We must have to transition ourselves to a post-oil era. And that’s what we must discuss: searching and developing new sources of energy. And that requires scientific research. That requires investment. And the developed countries must be the ones to assume this responsibility first.

AMY GOODMAN: What level of emissions are you willing to support reductions of emissions?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] One hundred percent. One hundred percent. We must reduce the emissions 100 percent. In Venezuela, the emissions are currently insignificant compared to the emissions of the developed countries. We are in agreement. We must reduce all the emissions that are destroying the planet. However, that requires a change in lifestyle, a change in the economic model: We must go from capitalism to socialism. That’s the real solution.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you throw away capitalism?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] The way they did it in Cuba. That’s the way. The same way we are doing in Venezuela: giving the power to the people and taking it away from the economic elites. You can only do that through a revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama—what is your reaction to his speech today?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] Obama is a big frustration. In my opinion, Obama can become one of the biggest frustrations in the history for many people, not for me, but for the people of the United States that voted for him and saw him as a symbol of hope for change. But he has given continually to the most aggressive Bush policies, the imperialist policies.

AMY GOODMAN: What example of that?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] The war. I told Obama, when he took the initiative to come visit us in the Summit of the Americas—we talked for a few minutes. I told him, "Obama, let’s work for peace in Colombia. That’s what I am proposing. Let’s get a team together to analyze the problem." But absolutely nothing. He is now installing seven military bases in Colombia. That’s just one example.
And in Iraq and Afghanistan, policies of war. Guantánamo, it is a great frustration. And I feel sorry, not for me. You are from the United States. I feel sorry for you, because you deserve a government that takes care of the problems of the people of the United States and stops thinking about dominating the rest of the world and just governs over the United States, eradicates the problems of the United States, the poverty, the inequality, which gets bigger every day, the unemployment, families on the street, homeless, without Social Security, diseases. I wish for you to get a government that truly takes care of you first and then works towards peace for the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. government calls you a dictator. What is your response?
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] I laugh. I laugh. It is the empire calling me a dictator. I’m happy. And I remember Don Quixote, Quixote who was with Sancho, you know, and the dogs start to bark, and Sancho says, "They are going to bite us." And Quixote wisely answers, "Take it easy, Sancho, because if the dogs are barking, it is because we are galloping." I will be very sad and worried if the imperialist government was calling me a great democratic man. No, it is them, the empire, who attack those who are truly contributing to the real democracy.

People’s power takes power away from the oligarchy

Analyzing the Debate on Chavez’s Socialist Plan:
Interview with Venezuelan Academic Javier Biardeau

by Hector Escalante

The Plan of the Nation for the 2013-2019 period, proposed by President Hugo Chavez last June in the context of his socialist platform for the 2012 presidential election, stopped being an electoral platform when it was opened up for debate and improvement by the Venezuelan people. In short, the national program is to be strengthened by the contributions of the national collective, by the experiences and needs of the people.

President Chavez has insisted repeatedly that the “invitation” to debate is open to all sectors of society, that is, both pro- and anti-Chavez forces. But will the initiative truly strengthen democracy and people’s power in Venezuela? That is the question that guides this interview with Javier Biardeau, Professor of Sociology at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).

Hector Escalante: What’s your take on the national discussion to improve the 2013-2019 Plan of the Nation?

Javier Biardeau: I think it’s a very positive advance when compared to the methods used to plan and design public policy within liberal representative democracy. At the same time, this is just a beginning, a brief and limited process that still needs to establish authentic channels for debate that allow for the recognition of political pluralism and the diversity of proposals on the table.

Future discussions will produce a more participatory democracy with a greater density of debate, recognizing the multiplicity of voices, the diversity of revolutionary currents, the balance between majorities and minorities, and the inclusion of tendencies from within both government and opposition circles.

Sadly, the opposition has shown a truly infantile capacity to take advantage of these public spaces created precisely to foment a controversial, agonistic dialogue with the government. The opposition has failed to make a counterproposal to be discussed with the nation, a fact that signals their total lack of interest in holding a true debate.

Putting it simply, the Venezuelan opposition seeks only to operate as a destructive voice and force in society. Regrettably, the terrible habit within opposition circles of characterizing the government as an “authoritarian democracy” creates a grey area that cancels out the possibility of creating a constructive opposition that contributes to society. According to those negative voices, to debate policy with the government is to collaborate with a “totalitarian” or “autocratic” regime. Meanwhile, those within the opposition that do reflect, think critically, etc., do so using a limiting ideological script born of US politics. They see nothing more than “democratic totalitarianism”, “fascism”, “authoritarian nationalism”, or what some of them call “radical populism”.

As such, the possibility of a constructive debate on the importance of planning the country’s social and economic development becomes trapped in a polarized dead end. Their positioning limits the discussions on what actions are to be taken, resources to be designated, responsibilities among actors, the content and objectives of an ambitious plan aimed at building Bolivarian Socialism of the 21st Century in order to overcome capitalism, once and for all, in Venezuela.

The Crux of the Debate
The current debate is about transforming an electoral platform into an authentic, participatory, democratic, and inclusive design of policy so as to produce a matrix of public policies to be carried out in the different realms of national and international political life. This debate is far removed from neoliberalism and its minimized state and at the same time has nothing to do with the bureaucratic socialism of the 20th century and its authoritarian statism. Instead, it seeks to advance a democratic and social state based on rights and justice, on participatory democracy, on the direct exercise of popular sovereignty.

This kind of debate helps bring people out of political lethargy, breaks inertia, and serves to overcome the thesis that the permanent democratic revolution is now concluded and that institutionality is all that matters. In short, it gets everyone thinking about governance, about efficient public management, the administration of popular will and the strengthening of both the faces and voices of democratic power.

In Venezuela today there are tendencies from above and tendencies from below that are at an impasse. One of the greatest roadblocks we face is that part of society that says “yes” to Chavez while at the same time says “no” to following through on his proposals. By doing so, they leave President Chavez isolated. It’s no accident that Chavez often expresses sentiments of solitude, often says he feels like (Simon) Bolivar, alone.

People’s power is the direct control over popular sovereignty. It’s the power to modify structures in society that serve only to maintain inequality and exclusion. As such, the debate underway empowers movements of workers, students, campesinos, the indigenous, scientists, professionals, etc. The mobilization of these sectors of society benefits the entire national collective since they represent the basis of Venezuelan democracy, the basis of our constitutional transformation.

The crux of the issue, however, is that this process is bound to modify the correlation of forces, the political framework that exists and the relations that holds it together. Behind the scenes there are actors that seek to secure a political and social pact among different social classes, a sort of social dialogue.

But if one digs a little, one finds a set of clashes between interests of all types. This clash of interests, both economic and social, is the key reason President Chavez has put the debate into the hands of people’s power. And if the national collective fails to use a sharp class analysis to interpret the issues at hand, groups involved, etc. we’ll never succeed in understanding what lies behind the permanent conflict between government and opposition.

In Venezuela, there are dominant classes in the realms of the economy, politics, ideology, and culture. The question to ask is whether or not people’s power takes power out away from the oligarchy of money? That is precisely what it does. That’s what it’s all about. Otherwise, we’d be in the presence of a simulation of people’s power.
Venezuela and Palestine to Strengthen Relations after Landmark U.N. Vote
by Ewan Robertson

Venezuela will be the first country to receive an official Palestinian delegation after the Middle-eastern country was recognised by the United Nations as a non-member observer state yesterday.

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to grant Palestine’s request for observer state status, with 138 in favour, 9 against and 41 abstentions. Israel and the United States were among those who voted against the resolution.

In his address to the UN General Assembly, Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, Jorge Valero, voiced his country’s strong support for the resolution and for full Palestinian statehood.

The Venezuelan ambassador also criticised Israel’s policies towards Palestine, stating that “the Bolivarian government and the people of Venezuela have condemned the state of Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian people”.

He further decried Israeli “state terrorism” against the Palestinians, slamming Israel as an “Occupying power...[that] violates international human rights law, [and] fails to comply with hundreds of UN resolutions, putting it at the margin of international law”.

Valero urged the UN General Assembly that “the warmongering Israeli elite must therefore be held to account for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian people”.

He then concluded his intervention by declaring “long live the free and sovereign Palestinian people!”

The UN vote comes just a week after the end of Israel’s latest military assault on Palestine’s Gaza Strip, which left 162 Palestinians and 5 Israelis dead. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez publicly condemned the attacks as “savage” at the time.

Alongside the Venezuelan government, the Venezuelan delegation to the Latin American Parliament also celebrated the result of yesterday’s UN vote, expressing it’s “most profound satisfaction” with Palestine’s achievement of its new diplomatic status.

Palestinian Delegation

Following yesterday’s landmark UN vote, a top-level Palestinian delegation is to travel to Venezuela to strengthen relations between the two countries.

The Palestinian ambassador to Venezuela, Farid Suwwan, confirmed today that the delegation will arrive this Sunday, and that the two nations are expected to agree on up to eight new accords in the areas of health, education, tourism, culture and sport.

“Relations between Venezuela and Palestine have never been as good as they are now…the first official delegation that the Palestinian state sends to another nation is going to be Venezuela and it’s going to be a big delegation; five ministers, three vice ministers and two secretary-generals of state,” said Suwwan in an interview with Venezuelan state channel VTV.

The diplomat added that existing agreements between Venezuela and Palestine will also be strengthened, including scholarship programs for Palestinians to study in Venezuela. The summit will look at implementing agreements “with a permanent work mechanism throughout the year,” he said.

Venezuela established diplomatic relations with Palestine in April 2009, after severing relations with Israel in reaction to its January 2009 assault of the Gaza Strip.

In a meeting between President Hugo Chavez and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in October last year, Venezuela agreed on a variety of accords to support Palestine, including building medical facilities and supporting sustainable urban agriculture in the Middle Eastern territory.

Real Example of Solidarity with Palestine

The Latin American Medical School- Solidarity of Venezuela with Palestine

This week saw simultaneous Israeli attacks against Syria and Gaza, with more lives being claimed by Zionism. Palestinian students at the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Caracas again had reason to give thanks to the revolutionary solidarity of the Chavez administration, as they watched with ever increasing concern for the safety of their families.

Ties between Venezuela and Israel have been strained since the Israeli attacks of December 2008 against Palestine, when Chavez threw out the Israeli ambassador. Whilst many across the globe clamor for their governments to apply solidarity measures to help the plight of the Palestinians, President Chavez is leading the way by implementing practical policies to improve the conditions of the its people.

The Caracas ELAM is the second of its type, following on from the success of its precursor in Habana Cuba, and is born out of the model of human development embodied by Dr’s Che Guevara and Salvador Allende. The university gives scholarships to students from poorer countries such as Angola, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, Mozambique, or Nicaragua, who come and study medicine, and then return to their communities to practice as Integral Community Medics. The university currently works alongside the Foreign Ministry to establish educational accords to receive students from 42 countries.

The ELAM has received Palestinian students since 2010 and currently trains 26 Palestinian medics. For Palestinian students Mohammed Abdalghani (20) and Mahmoud Mohammed Alimoor (21) from the Gaza Strip, and Ahmed Qaraqra (20) from Jerusalem, currently in their 2nd year at the ELAM, this provided a life changing opportunity, one which gives them the opportunity to materially help their compatriots, and one which really demonstrates both the internationalist and solidarity qualities of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The students, when interviewed, were keen to stress that this is a chance to fulfill a dream. Mahmoud told us that “since a child it was my dream to be a doctor, someone who makes many sacrifices to cure people. When I finished high school I knew that my father couldn’t pay my university, as it costs a lot, and we don’t have enough, only to eat, we are a large family - 6 boys and 4 girls - and he couldn’t pay for university for all of us… now I am very close to my dream”.

Mohammed told us how he “almost cried” when he heard of his approval for the place in the ELAM, and went on to emphasizes some of the problems which the people face in Gaza: “one of the clear problems in my country is the lack of doctors”.

He went on to manifest that the process of getting to Venezuela wasn’t simple, even after the scholarship and placement had been approved. “It wasn’t so easy to leave, in Palestine we don’t have an airport, so from the Gaza strip we had to cross the border into Egypt with a car and afterwards leave from the airport in Egypt”.

His co-student, Mahmoud, told us that he didn’t even have a passport when his placement came through, and that the border was frequently closed. Yet, when they arrived, “we were given a warm welcome, and I felt excited and very curious as to how our lives would be in this beautiful country” explained Mohammed.

These future doctors come from a country described by Ahmed as one “where you really feel the damaging results of imperialism, the humiliating impression of being the victim of the carcinogenic Zionism which always tries to destroy the patriotic and cultural principals of the Palestinian cause”.

Ahmed, whose father died of a heart condition, explained that “the word Bolivariana is becoming more common in the Palestinian vocabulary thanks to the great support from Venezuela”. Mahmoud also told us that “it’s very normal to see the Venezuelan flag in the houses and streets of Palestine, even the children know President Chavez”.

The students, who underwent a Spanish course upon arrival, before starting pre-medicine and finally embarking on their 4-year Integral Community Medicine courses, are taught mostly by Cuban doctors, who, according to Mohammed, are “examples of solidarity, dignity, and perseverance”.

The students are instructed not only in the biological causes of illnesses, but the social and political causes, as well as “solidarity and social conscience”. “It seemed strange to me that there were many classes of politics in our course, so I asked myself, what relation did politics have with the medicine which they are trying to teach us here?” reflected Mohammed, who’s house was destroyed in the 2008 Israeli attacks.

As one student elucidated, the cause of stomach problems in a patient may not be simply a bad diet, but one has to take into consideration the impact of false consciousness which convinces us to eat unhealthy food, promoted by capitalist advertising, and also the economic-political landscape which gives rise to such unhealthy corporate advertising as causes of the illness.

Ahmed emphasized the human face of medicine, which is also taught at the university: “in the shade of the revolution, they teach us the medical sciences as much as the true social values which are applicable in the communities… they teach us to think about everyone else, to love our country, and appreciate cultural integration, to sacrifice ourselves for humanity and to learn to pacifically rise up to save the planet from the real threats which sadly consist in human existence”.

The three students were adamant in their support for the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution: here “there is a socialist government which worries about its people, for the poor, the excluded people . . . it is a free country, independent and socialist, with a lot of economic resources, which help the poor countries” responded Mahmoud.

“The Venezuelan people open the door to the revolutionary youth, who try to confront aggressive capitalism which is punishing our people” resolved Ahmed. “Chavez, with his words, awakens in us those revolutionary sentiments hidden in our human consciousness”. Venezuelan solidarity is enacted, he described, “without wanting anything material in return, it’s expressed through education, diplomacy, and international politics”.

Mahmoud eloquently emphasized the need for more doctors in Palestine, where “the people suffer, struggle, die, and cry”, and which is “a disaster, full of death and injury, full of misery”, and where “one doesn’t live, but survive”. He thanked Venezuela for its solidarity during the 2008 war: “no other country did anything and left Gaza to die alone”.

Mohammed on his return to Palestine dreams of “opening a clinic for free medical attention, with the single aim of helping to improve the quality of life of my people”. Mahmoud emphasized that, after 2 years at the school, “I feel more responsible now, more mature, and I have learnt many things”.

Ahmed poetically articulated that “the presence of Bolívar in every corner of Caracas has forced me to feel free, and this feeling, which is lacking in the hearts of my compatriots, would make even the saddest of them feel joy”.

Speaking about the real impact of Venezuelan solidarity with Palestine, he explained that “when the Palestinian people think about the reasons which motivate our Venezuelan brothers to help us, they won’t find anything other than pure love and honesty without any hidden intention- that is how love is born”.

Paul Dobson Nov 2012

Satellite Miranda, to monitor agricultural lands across Venezuela

Venezuela accelerates land reform
by Chris Carlson

The Venezuelan government has accelerated its policy of land expropriations so far this year and intends to continue this trend in 2013, according to budget information from the National Land Institute (INTI).

Documents from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that more than 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) have been taken over or redistributed by the government since the beginning of 2011, a 200 percent increase from the amount recovered in 2010.

For 2013, the budget approved for land expropriations by the National Land Institute has been increased to allow for 397 thousand hectares (980 thousand acres) to be taken over by the government next year, a 13 percent increase over 2012.

A total of 350 thousand hectares (864 thousand acres) were approved for 2012, although the numbers indicate that the total has greatly surpassed this number so far this year.

“We are continuing and intensifying the policy of recovering lands,” said Minister of Agriculture Juan Carlos Loyo recently.

Venezuela has long struggled with highly concentrated land ownership, and an abundance of very large farms, known as “latifundio,” that are characterized by low productivity and underutilization of the land.

The 2001 Land Law was intended to combat this problem by allowing for the expropriation and redistribution of unproductive “latifundios.” In 2005 the National Land Institute began to carry out the policy of “rescuing” land from large landowners who have historically occupied public lands without legal title.

“We’re not expropriating lands, we’re recovering them,” said Loyo.

It is estimated that the Venezuelan government has recovered more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) since 2005, whereas the country possesses a total of around 30 million hectares (74 million acres) of agricultural land.

The lands are then either redistributed to smaller farmers, or used to form farmer’s collectives on state land as a part of what has been called “Agrarian Socialism”.

New head of INTI draws criticism
The intensification of the land expropriation policy coincided with the return of Minister of Agriculture Juan Carlos Loyo to the head of the National Land Institute (INTI). Loyo had stepped down from INTI earlier this year citing health reasons, but was reappointed last month by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The National Federation of Cattle Ranchers (Fedenaga) criticized the reappointment of Loyo, citing complaints from recent years when Loyo headed the organization.

“Mr. Loyo was the one responsible for the policy of taking over farms and productive lands,” said president of Fedenaga, Manuel Cipriano Heredia. “Now this same official is both Minister of Agriculture and head of the National Land Insitute.”

Cattle ranchers have stridently opposed the government’s land policies in recent years, assuring that they create insecurity for agricultural producers and worsen production.

“Government intervention of productive farms for political reasons has significantly decreased production,” said Heredia. “We have proof of farms that were at their maximum capacity and after being taken over have been destroyed.”

Loyo led a contentious takeover of 67 farms south of Lake Maracaibo in the state of Zulia in 2010. Landowners in this region have recently expressed concern that more lands will be taken over after squatters invaded two farms there.

Cattle ranchers claim that only 5 percent of the expropriations carried out by Loyo in recent years have been indemnified so far.

Yet despite the claims of government opponents, statistics indicate that agricultural production has expanded significantly in recent years, especially in dry grains. Cattle production, however, has seen slow growth.

Minister Loyo also announced that Venezuela will be using its recently launched satellite, Satellite Miranda, to monitor agricultural lands across the country. Satellite imagery will allow the government to oversee the use of around 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of agricultural land, and determine how land is being utilized.

Chavez administration is a strong supporter of the Palestinian people

Hugo Chavez condemns Israel's “savage” assault on Palestinians in Gaza

By Ewan Robertson
November 16, 2012 -- Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has condemned Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip as “savage”, and called for an end to “aggression” against the Palestinian people. “Another aggression against the Gaza Strip has begun. Savage, savage: the state of Israel bombing the Gaza Strip again”, said Chavez to ministers yesterday in reference to Israel’s ”Pillar of Cloud” airstrike campaign against the Palestinian territory.

Israel began its offensive on November 14 by killing the military chief of the Palestinian organisation Hamas. Agencies report that 28 Palestinians and three Israelis have died in the conflict so far, with a further 250 Palestinians wounded.

The Venezuelan president argued that Israel's operation is occurring “because the [Palestinian] president Mahmoud Abbas has insisted that he’s going to request, once again, the entrance of Palestine as a full member state of the United Nations”.

Mahmoud Abbas submitted a renewed request for Palestine’s full UN membership in September. Chavez referred to the proposal as a “realistic vision … however the response [from Israel] is this”. “Because of that, we ask for a world of peace…[where] aggression against Syria, Palestine and the peoples of the world stops”, he continued.

At the beginning of this week, Venezuela's vice-president Nicolas Maduro confirmed that Venezuela would vote in favour of Palestine’s full membership in the UN General Assembly. “We accompany the Palestinian people in all their struggles. In this scenario of the UN our voice and our vote will be there”, Maduro said.

The vice-president also emphasised Venezuela’s support of “the long march of the Palestinian people towards full recognition of having a state, as an independent nation, the right to peace, and their ancestral territories”.

The Chavez administration has been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause in its conflict with Israel. In 2009 Venezuela broke relations with Israel in response to its Cast Lead assault on the Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of “state terrorism” which had “cost the lives of the vulnerable and innocent: children, women, and the elderly”.

In 2011, Venezuela supported Palestine’s attempt to be recognised as an independent state by the UN, with pro-Palestine demonstrations held around the country. Chavez also wrote a personal letter to the UN General Secretary advocating Palestinian statehood and criticising the “barbarism” of Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people.
Venezuela: The future of ‘21st century socialism’ after the poll

By Federico Fuentes
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s re-election on October 7 with more than 55% of the vote was vital for two reasons.

First, the Venezuelan people blocked the return to power of the neoliberal right. Had they won, these US-backed forces would have worked to roll back important advances for the poor majority won since Chavez was first elected in 1998.

These include a huge expansion in government providing basic services (such as education, health and housing), the nationalisation of previous privatised strategic industries, and the promotion of popular participation in communities and workplaces.
Second, Chavez’s re-election provides a new mandate for arguably the most radical, anti-capitalist project under way in the world today.

Having emerged as a response to the crisis the country found itself in under neoliberalism, and at a time when socialism appeared moribund, Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution has radicalised to the point where it has explicitly stated its goal to be “socialism of the 21st century”.

The ability to further advance this project in Venezuela will depend on the impact of ongoing US intervention and regional integration, the intensifying class struggle within the pro-Chavez camp, and the political fate and health of Chavez.

Understanding the rise of the Bolivarian revolution requires placing it within the country’s oil-rich history.

The rise of oil production in the 1920s fuelled a dramatic transformation in Venezuela’s economy. Agricultural production, until then the main pillar of the economy, slumped as capital poured into the oil sector.

As oil’s contribution to state revenues rapidly rose, power and wealth became fused within the state. The result was a parasitic capitalist class that primarily sought to enrich itself by appropriating state resources.

These developments also shaped the formation of Venezuela’s popular classes. People fled the countryside en masse, flocking to the cities for their share of the oil rent.

They came to create a huge belt of barrios (shanty towns) where impoverished informal workers tried to eke out an existence. State funds were used by different political interests to win the loyalty of these sectors.

These factors underpinned Venezuela’s pervasive culture of “clientalism” and corruption.

This political set-up was sent into crisis by the economic crises and the gyration of oil prices that hit the world economy from the 1970s onwards.

Venezuela’s 1976 oil nationalisation only deepened this trend. The state oil company PDVSA came to operate as a “state within the state”, operating largely independently of any governmental control.

Within PDVSA, private appropriation of public resources continued unabated, while US-based corporations kept control over oil production.
State income instead experienced a steep decline, falling from US$1500 per person in 1975 to $350 per person in 1999 (in 1998 US dollars).

International financial institutions advised Venezuela’s rulers to resolve the state’s fiscal crisis by shifting the burden onto the people.
A February 1989 International Monetary Fund austerity package caused fuel prices to skyrocket overnight. This was the trigger for an explosion of mass discontent: an immense uprising that rocked Caracas for four days, extending outwards to several other cities and towns.

Although quelled by brutal repression, the Caracazo marked a point of no return for a society reeling from a deep economic slump and a crisis of the state and political system.

Throughout the next decade, about 7000 protests took place as new dynamic forms of local organisation began to emerge in the barrios.
Given the state’s role in controlling the nation’s wealth, the state became the focus of a steady stream of demands that progressively became an unstoppable wave.
Rise of Chavez

Within this context, the leader of a clandestine dissident current within Venezuela’s armed forces — Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez — captured the collective imagination of the poor majority when he led a failed military rebellion in 1992.
Jailed after the rebellion, Chavez emerged two years later resolved to stand in the 1998 presidential elections.

He began campaigning across the country, arguing the only way to achieve real independence and eradicate poverty was by giving power to the people.
Alongside setting up a new electoral party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic (MVR), Chavez called for the formation of a Patriotic Pole (PP) to unite all those parties and organisations that supported his candidature.

Chavez’s message enabled him to tap into the deep discontent among Venezuela’s popular classes and unify the various strands of the left.

On December 6, 1998, Chavez was elected as president, winning 56.2% of the vote.
However, from the beginning it was clear that winning elections was not the same as taking state power. PDVSA remained tightly under the control of the traditional business elites and the allegiance of large sections of the military to any project for radical change remained unknown.

The new government was also conscious that its mass popularity was not rooted in well-organised social organisations. The dispersed and unorganised nature of “chavismo” meant the centre of gravity lay with executive power.

As such, the pace and course of reforms has tended to be driven almost exclusively by initiatives taken from above. Critically, with each advance, Chavez sought to organise and consolidate the social base.

Chavez’s first move was to convene a democratically-elected constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. The aim was to shift the rules of a game that had been traditionally stacked in favor of the old political class.

In opposition to the corrupt “representative” democracy that had allowed the same elites to monopolise power for decades, the new constitution proposed a “participatory and protagonist” democracy, where power resided among the people.
The challenge for the Bolivarian forces was to turn this novel idea into reality, which would require an inevitable showdown with the traditional elites, backed and funded by Washington.

Over the next three years, these two competing blocs faced off in three decisive battles. Each time, the pro-revolution forces came out victorious, and consolidated their military, economic and political hegemony.

The first major showdown occurred on April 11, 2002, when an opposition rally against Chavez morphed into a military coup that overthrew him and installed the head of the country’s chamber of commerce.

The coup was defeated by a civic-military uprising. Hundreds of officers who supported the coup were later removed, taking control of the armed forces out of the hands of the old elites.

The second major bid to bring down Chavez took place at the end of the same year, when an alliance between PDVSA management, capitalist elites, the corporate media and corrupt trade union officials sought to halt production in the strategic oil sector.

In response, loyal PDVSA workers, soldiers, and community activists mobilised to break the back of the bosses’ strike.

This mobilisation from below enabled the Venezuelan government to purge PDVSA of its right-wing bureaucracy, and placed the company firmly in the hands of the government.
The leaps forward in worker and community organisation that occurred during this struggle proved crucial to defeating the third major offensive by the opposition: the August 2004 recall referendum on Chavez’s presidency.

Chavez’s victory, in a poll made possible because of democratic reforms introduced by the new constitution, consolidated his democratic credentials.

With the military and PDVSA under control, and resting on an increasingly organised social base, the Chavez government was able to launch a range of experiments during 2003-2005 aimed at deepening peoples’ power.

These included initiatives such as the social missions that provide free health and education, and economic enterprises such as cooperatives and worker-run factories. These helped tackle poverty while simultaneously increasing the organisational capacity of the masses.

By the time of Chavez's re-election bid at the end of 2006, the Bolivarian revolution could also count on a growing alliance of progressive and left governments in the region. This opened the way to greater regional cooperation and integration, a key objective of the Bolivarian revolution.

However, it was also clear the revolution had not decisively broken the resistance of corporate power and replaced the old, corrupt state that served corporate power with a new power built from below.

Anti-capitalist offensive
After winning the December 2006 presidential elections, Chavez unleashed a new anti-capitalist offensive.

At his January 8 inauguration ceremony, Chavez explained that the goal of this new term was to “transfer political, social, and economic power” to the people. To do so it was vital to dismantle the old state.

Chavez said the goal of 21st century socialism required advancing on three fronts at the same time: increasing social ownership over the means of production, encouraging greater workplace democracy, and directing production toward social needs.
To achieve this ambitious agenda, Chavez called for all revolutionaries to help form a united party of the revolution, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Four-and-a-half million people joined the PSUV in its initial recruitment drive, a clear sign of the level of support for the initiative.

Over the next six years, the Chavez government carried out a wave of nationalisations in the oil, electricity, telecommunications, banking, steel, cement, and food production sector as it tried to reassert national sovereignty over the economy.

The overall result was that the state had the necessary weight across strategic sectors of the economy to dictate production goals. The threat of expropriation loomed for those that refused to cooperate.

The spate of nationalisations was more the result of government initiatives (in response to the needs the poor) than workers’ struggle, and Chavez continuously emphasised that nationalisation alone did not equate with socialism.

To help stimulate worker participation, the government initiated a process of workers’ control in the state-owned steel, aluminium and electricity companies.
The promotion of grassroots communal councils, and later communes (made up of elected representatives from communal councils), was also an important focus of the Chavez government during this term.

These councils were aimed at building upon and linking the various forms of existing community groups. The communal councils were charged with diagnosing the main problems facing their communities and creating a plan to resolve them.

Funding for these projects came from the state, but all major decisions were made in citizen’s assemblies. This was a unique experiment in democratising the redistribution of oil revenue while promoting community empowerment.

In 2009, the government took a further step by promoting the communes. These aim to encompass several communal councils within a self-defined community to collectively tackle problems on a larger scale.

These new forms of organisation have involved unparalleled numbers in community organising. They have come to be seen as the building blocs of a new state.
Internal class struggle

This simultaneous push for nationalisation, workers control and community councils also brought to the fore the class struggle that existed within chavismo.
A 2009 banking crisis led to several banks being nationalised and their owners jailed. This process revealed the existence of a sector within the revolutionary process that had enriched itself through its connections to the state, popularly referred to as the boliburguesia (“Bolivarian bourgeoisie”).

Moves to transfer greater power to workers and communities faced mounting resistance from within the existing state bureaucracy.

Along with the persistent problems of corruption and clientalism, worker and community activists increasingly complained that company and state officials sought to defend their positions of power.

By early last year, Chavez was also denouncing the vices that plagued the PSUV. He warned: “The old way of doing politics is devouring us, the corruption of politics is devouring us … the old capitalist values have infiltrated us from all sides.”
The party needed to return to its principles, otherwise it risked following the path of the MVR, which only really operated as an electoral vehicle.

Recognising these problems, Chavez launched the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) in October last year, calling on all pro-revolution social movements and parties to unite to ensure a decisive victory in the 2012 presidential elections.

More than 30,000 different groups signed up. In the end, the votes of the non-PSUV parties (which numbered around 1.7 million) and social movements that did not appear on the ballot (as they were not electoral registered) and therefore called for a vote for the PSUV despite not being involved in the party, were decisive in securing Chavez’s victory.

As Chavez prepares to start a new term in government, Venezuela’s revolution faces three main challenges.

The first is the threat from the US, which has recently made some gains in the region such as the coup against progressive Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, and the Venezuelan opposition it backs in its bid to oust Chavez.

The second is the revolution's ability to deal with the twin problems of corruption and bureaucratism. Overcoming these challenges will require greater popular participation through initiatives such as the communes and the push for workers’ control.

Consolidating the unity achieved through the GPP could help lead in this regard.
The third challenge, which has become ever more apparent since Chavez’s diagnosis with cancer, is the need to create a collective leadership.

History will record that the Bolivarian revolution succeeded in rolling back neoliberalism and laying the foundations for a transition to 21st century socialism.
The dynamic relationship that has existed so far between Chavez and the masses has been a key factor in ensuring this.

Chavez has played a dominant leadership role in the Venezuelan revolution. This has been criticized in some quarters, but his role must be placed within the historic context outlined: one of a Venezuela marked by intense ferment from below but varying organisational strength of the social movements.

At each step, Chavez has launched initiatives to encourage the self-organisation of the people. Through this process the Venezuelan people have increasingly taken the destiny of their country into their own hands.

His role as the key figure in the revolution and the trust placed in him by the poor majority make Chavez, for now, irreplaceable.

His re-election to the presidency in the face of a reinvigorated opposition, demonstrated once again that most Venezuelans believe he is the sole figure capable of leading the country forward.

The future of the process will depend on increasing the self-organisation of the masses and the development of a collective leadership that can support, and be capable of substituting for Chavez's singular role.

Federico Fuentes is a Socialist Alliance and Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network activist. He has lived in Venezuela as part of Green Left Weekly’s Caracas bureau. With Michael Fox and Roger Burbach, Fuentes is the co-author of the forthcoming book Latin America Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism.]

This article from:
January Delegation to Venezuela: Witness Historic Inaugurations and Advances in Food Sovereignty, Human Rights, and Community Power

January 7-17, 2013

With Hugo Chavez’s historic win this October, the Venezuelan people have committed to carry forward the Bolivarian Revolution, with its advances in social equality, human rights, community power, and more. Join us this January to witness the presidential inauguration on January 10th, followed by visits to different parts of the country. One of the focuses of this trip will be food sovereignty, or how both the government and the people are taking back control of the country’s agricultural and food systems. We will also explore other areas of social transformation, including education, healthcare, and direct citizen participation in the political process. There will also be trips to beaches, parks, and other sites of interest.

Cost for Activities: $1100. This will cover all lodging, all ground transportation, 2 meals per day, qualified trip leaders, and Spanish-English interpretation. Additional expenses during the trip will be low.

Airfare not included.

Tentative Itinerary. Start and end in Caracas; visits to the states of Maracay, Yaracuy and Carabobo.

Day 1: Caracas – Arrival; orientation/welcome; visits to social programs and discussions with community leaders and local authorities.
Day 2: Visits to urban agriculture sites and other community initiatives in different communities in Caracas, including 23 de Enero, El Valle, and Petare.

Day 3 and 4: Presidential Inauguration and relates activities.
Days 5 and 6: Visits to rural areas in the states of Yaracuy and Carabobo: learn about agrarian reform and agroecology through visits to agricultural cooperatives, biological control laboratories, food processing coops, and agricultural education programs

Days 7 and 8:
Visit to the Afro-Venezuelan coastal community of Chuao, known for producing some of the world’s best cocoa; learn about artisanal cacao production as well as artisanal fishing and Venezuela’s progressive fishing laws; enjoy beautiful beaches.
Day 9: Caracas: free day for sight seeing, getting souvenirs, etc.
Day 10: departure.

To Learn more and hold a spot for the trip, email Please be in touch as soon as possible, as space is very limited. Please allow several days for responses.

Sponsored by the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle of New York, USA.
For more information see:
Check out these articles from past delegations:

Venezuela’s Presidential Elections: An Imperfect-Victory
Oct 8th 2012, by Tamara Pearson

Last night we were squashed and pushed as the crowd surged into the Miraflores Palace to hear Chavez’s victory speech. People were so happy, they didn’t mind their feet being trodden on, the humidity of the air and the sweat of bodies and all the standing up, they were exuberant and they shouted and danced and jumped up and down and yelled out to strangers and threw beer up in the air, and even a few shoes. Yet, among them, I felt a bit down, because the results were quite close, because over six million people supported, by voting for Capriles, selfishness (he had focused his campaign on Venezuela ending its solidarity with other countries) and the destruction and sale of their country.

The results
With most votes counted, Chavez won with 8,044,106 votes, or 55.11% to Capriles’ 6,461,612 (44.27%) for a difference of 1,582,494 votes, or almost 11%. Chavez also won (according to the results as they are today) in 21 states and the Capital District (Caracas), and lost to Capriles in Merida and Tachira states,. He won in Zulia and Carabobo- where there are currently opposition governors. No one voted for the other candidates, with third place going to Reina Sequera with 0.47% of the vote.

The election then was about Chavez, and the candidate-against-Chavez. Although 11% is a huge lead by global standards, compared to the 2006 presidentials (when Chavez got 62.9% of the vote, and Manuel Rosales 36.9%; a difference of 26%) it's quite narrow, and its worrying because Chavez tends to garner many more votes on his own than PSUV candidates running in national assembly or regional elections.

Due to high voter turnout, both sides received a record number of votes, but the opposition’s 6.5 million was a good 20-50% more than what has been its standard 4 to 5 million over the last 13 years. The Chavista vote of 8 million was also significantly higher than its standard 6 or so million in elections, though the increase is somewhat less in proportionate terms. Further, poll companies- private and public, were almost consistently giving Capriles around 35% of the vote, from February when he was preselected as a candidate until September. That means a large proportion of the undecided vote went to the opposition.

Nevertheless, the outcome is a clear mandate for Chavez, and for Venezuela’s socialism.

Loving democracy: massive voter turnout
80.9% of Venezuelans, despite rains in some parts of the country, voluntarily voted yesterday; a historic record for Venezuela and a remarkable number compared to voluntary elections in other parts of the world. In the 2006 Venezuelan presidential elections, 75% turned out to vote.

This is significant for many reasons. It shows that Venezuela’s elections have enough real consequences in the minds of the people that they feel motivated to vote, and that Venezuela is quite the opposite of the dictatorship the mainstream media portrays it as. Rather, and in contrast to most other countries, voting day is anticipated, enjoyed, taken seriously, and ends in passionate celebration.

Venezuela is building participatory democracy, and people’s understanding and concern for democracy is much higher than most countries. Venezuela’s electoral system, for the umpteenth time, and despite media characterisations to the contrary, has been proven again to be open, fair, and trusted. That’s a big blow to sectors of the opposition who, in accumulated desperation, had planned to call fraud and including Capriles, spent months trying to cast doubt on the impartiality and honesty of the National Electoral Council (CNE). Their strategy did not work, their supporters on the whole did not buy it, because they voted anyway. There were no major disturbances yesterday, such strategies are not supported by opposition voters, so the opposition is in a hard place because it can’t win in elections, nor by using undemocratic methods.

Why a narrowing gap then between the opposition and Chavez?
There are concrete and legitimate reasons and also invalid and ridiculous ones why people voted against Chavez. To go into the concrete reasons would be a separate article on the problems within the revolution, but in brief I would argue that there is discontent with the perpetual bureaucracy and corruption within the ranks of the PSUV and government institutions, and with the slowness in really addressing the issue of the malfunctioning justice system and of crime rates. There is a layer of Chavista leadership with a low level of consciousness and which doesn’t do its job, and people can see that and are frequently directly affected by it.

Many who voted against Chavez however, did so as a result of the national private media’s intense campaign of lies against the revolution, with comfortable middle class people who have cars, wide screen televisions, and huge daily meals complaining about Venezuela being a “disaster”, there being “scarcity” of food, the economy a “wreck” and so on. The massive international media campaign also helped boost Capriles.

Other voters felt Chavez had taken the socialist project “too far”, beyond progressive social policies and into radical territory, while others had “third term phenomenon”; that belief that a president shouldn’t be in power for “too long” and that any kind of alternative, even if it is a sexist, ignorant, and incompetent person like Capriles, is a “necessary change”. In fact, for a candidate running for a third term, Chavez’s lead was quite huge.

Consequences of the electoral result and next steps
Nevertheless, the opposition will come out of these elections emboldened. Had they received the predicted result of 35%, combined with their already existing disunity, they would have gone to the December regional state elections and the April mayoral elections confused, disorientated, and fighting amongst each other. But a vote of 45% and a narrowing gap gives them optimism. Also, in a number of states, although they lost, the result was close enough that with a strong campaign, or a bad candidate representing the Chavistas, the opposition would have a chance. Those states include Capital District, Amazonas, Anzoategui, Bolivar, Carabobo, Lara, Nueva Esparta, and Zulia, as well as the two states where Capriles won.

A narrower victory also means that the revolution can’t lie down and relax for a while. There will be reflection and self criticism, which is positive, but there will also be a danger for some sectors of the population, including Chavez, to feel somewhat defeated and to try to water down the revolution’s politics in order to accommodate opposition supporters. It’s also likely that, going into the December elections, the grassroots will focus on electoral campaigning, instead of holding the much needed debate and submitting proposals around Chavez’s draft governmental plan for 2013-2019. Such debate could deepen consciousness and radicalise, as well as pave the way for even greater and more informed involvement in the next period. Unfortunately, the PSUV governmental candidates have been chosen by its national executive and Chavez, people who are removed from local realities and unaware of the discontent with many of the candidates they have already selected. This means December is likely to be a much closer battle than the presidential one.

Chavez has said that the next six years should take Venezuela into socialism “beyond the point of no return”. The foundations have been laid, but it’s time now to make community councils and worker councils the norm, it’s time to talk about the hard issues that have been avoided (by the PSUV leadership) in order to avoid losing votes, such as gay rights, abortion and sexism, democratising the PSUV, and consumerism. If we don’t beat corruption and bureaucracy in the next period, we could lose this revolution. Now that the presidential elections are over, we have two main questions: How will we deepen the revolution, and will it survive?

One thing we felt yesterday, in the words of VA journalist Ewan Robertson, is “just how precious this revolution is, how much is at stake...and realising the need to fight even harder”.
A Story about Rubbish: Communities Takeover from Right-wing Opposition Mayor

Sept 19th 2012, by Tamara Pearson

Smack in the middle of tourist season, in little, tranquil, and stunningly beautiful Merida, with the giant green Andes hugging it on all sides, artisans in the plaza, beard trees in the parks, and tourists from Caracas standing in the doorways of pastel coloured posadas with their cameras –the opposition mayor decided to just stop collecting rubbish.

Two weeks passed, and rubbish began to pile up in rather large mountains on every block corner. The heavy rains and dogs ripped open the plastic bags, their guts spilling out and spreading about on the footpath and road. It stank, there were rats and African snails, the vultures that usually hang out high up in the mountains were coming down into the city streets. Communities started reporting health problems, with the environment minister Alejandro Hitcher reporting a significant increase of diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and dengue. The river that runs through the city was visibly much more contaminated.

In desperation, communities started to organise- they hired standard trucks between them and collected the rubbish themselves, swept the streets, and sometimes used venom to kill insect populations. Others burnt the rubbish. But it was an unsustainable solution, not just environmentally, but financially, for at 500bs for truck hire and 250bs to pay to dump the rubbish, divided by perhaps 20 families, three times a week- it was also unaffordable.

Lester Rodriguez, the opposition mayor of Libertador municipality (the central area of Merida city) is a kind of real life version of Lex Luther. A member of the Copei party, he was rector of the University of Los Andes (ULA), before being elected mayor in 2008 and will now run for governor of Merida state in December. As mayor he has spent millions of bolivars uprooting perfectly fine pavement near where I live, then repaving and painting those footpaths, no doubt as a “favour” to some friend of his in construction. He spends tonnes of money on the yearly bullfights in Merida, that the vast majority of locals are against, then smiles pastily at the cameras, and leaves rubbish uncollected for weeks in the poorer barrios of the city. As rector of the ULA it is known he helped hoard weaponry there (as an autonomous university, the police can’t enter it) for the violent and destabilising opposition group, M13. At this pertinent political time, he is currently taking a long holiday in Europe.

In 2009 Rodriguez received Bs 56 million specifically for rubbish collection, then at the start of this year he received a further Bs 12 million. It’s hard to know where that money has gone, but the municipal council (responsible for dealing out money to the mayoralty from the national government) has refused his latest request for further money for rubbish collection, given his complete lack of transparency, not fulfilling basic legal requirements in the request, and concern that they money will instead be directed to the opposition’s current presidential campaign, and Rodriguez’s campaign in December.

In public, Rodriguez has blamed the state owned national electricity company, Corpoelec, because of money owned by it to the mayoralty. Yet the money owed is a small amount, and Rodriguez owes a similar amount to them. The Corpoelec offices are one block from where I live, and a number of times men in balaclavas have dumped truckloads of rubbish on its doorsteps. Most recently, a neighbour who lives across the road from the offices, came out to complain, and was beaten up. He spent the night in hospital after a minor eye operation.

Turning crisis into opportunity
Nevertheless, it turns out this situation has become the crisis, or catalyst, we needed to start taking real action to democratise rubbish – an issue that is at the heart of how we consume and how we relate to our own resources and the planet.
The issue has also revealed some troubling and inspiring power dynamics between the grassroots, the opposition, and the national government that extend beyond little Merida, and can apply generally to the revolution.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) who got the ball rolling. A few environmental activists put the call out for a protest outside the mayoralty on Facebook. Hundreds quickly committed to attend. My communal council called an emergency meeting, and there we decided to support the protest, but we suggested to the organisers that it be a march from the plaza, and they agreed.
That Friday we held an organising meeting for the protest, and around 100 people from various communal councils and movements turned up. People were excited, and rather than talking about the protest, made proposals for a recycled art and graffiti movement, recycling schemes, and to create an EPS directa – a social production company run by the communal councils to collect and recycle rubbish, rehiring the current rubbish collectors who are out of work because of the mayor’s irresponsibility. I also got up and made some more concrete proposals for the march the next day, including that we demand that the mayor resign. People were excited, and clapped loudly.

The meeting ended in frustration though, as the PSUV prefect and one of his employees said they were “against the march” because the organising of it hadn’t gone through PSUV channels. This is despite the fact that almost everyone there was a PSUV member and/or leader. The prefect proposed the march be the following Thursday, rather than the next day (a Saturday), which I saw as a deliberate attempt to create confusion and disperse the enthusiasm. One of the main strategic lines of the PSUV is to support grassroots organising, but as the PSUV Merida executive hadn’t done anything so far, I guess they resented others taking the initiative.

Few of the people who came to that meeting came to the protest on Saturday. Instead of marching, we drew placards in the street, concentrated in one corner, and chanting “no more rubbish!” wrote the that same slogan on the back of cars with shoe polish (a Merida tradition). Despite the small turn out, it was a lively protest, and the municipal council called a press conference meeting for the following Monday.
The Federal Government Council (CFG), the entity where the national government articulates with communal councils and communes and assigns funding distribution, called a meeting of Libertador communal councils. The vice-minister for the environment was meant to attend this meeting, but didn’t. However, some 80 communal councils were represented. The Merida representative of the CFG echoed our original proposal to form an EPS, and said the municipal council was prepared to fund it with the money that the mayor was asking for.

Unfortunately, the next day the environment minister went on television and stated that after consulting with the “popular power” (the grassroots), the national government would take emergency measures to collect the rubbish. He had not actually consulted with us, and this was not the solution we were proposing.

Further, his emergency plan- currently being implemented, was a necessary, but short term solution to the crisis. Together with the tourism institute Cormetur, the (Chavista) Merida state government, and a brigade of volunteers, a contingency plan was designed to collect (but not recycle) the rubbish. The national government also created a municipal institute to rehire the rubbish collectors. The plan is only to be implemented until just after the presidential elections on 7 October, which says to us that in fact the environment ministry is more concerned with votes than with public health and the environment. We have written to the minister asking that the contingency plan last until we can get the EPS up and running, and criticising his lack of consultation and speaking in our name.

Organising community based rubbish recycling
I am excited and inspired by the idea of creating an EPS. This is revolution! This is the people taking power and responsibility into their own hands. We don’t need the lazy, corrupt and greedy mayors, nor the prefects. Eventually, all services should be run through the communities and by the workers. In Merida, the gas in some parroquias (suburbs) is already managed by an EPS.

Currently, Merida’s rubbish is contracted to Spanish company Urbaser. As a private company, it has neglected worker rights and is not actually concerned for the environment. The rubbish trucks are property of Urbaser, not of the population.
An EPS would be the opposite of that. In the following meetings of the mesa tecncia (the technical working group) to form the EPS we discussed the need for land to set up large scale worm farms, the need for local community worm farms and composters, as well as sorted rubbish collection points, the relationship between workers and community, awareness raising, countering consumerism, encouraging companies to produce and package in ways that are easier to recycle (or reducing packaging altogether), working with schools, training, and the administrative, operative, and legal aspects. We would like to use the recycled products to produce housing materials for the housing mission, among other things. After all, as one person said at one of the meetings, “rubbish is a treasure”.

We decided to form 7 EPSs in 7 different regions of the municipality, which would then coordinate together. The first steps will be holding broad community assemblies and discussing the EPS, as well as electing one representative to it per communal council.

Also, according to the Integral Waste Management Law, article 82, competency for waste management can be transferred to popular power if it can prove its capacity to do the job. This means we will have to document all the compost and worm farms that already exist, the one recycling initiative in the botanical gardens, and the way communities have already worked together to collect their rubbish, among other things.

We are also going to study the example of Petare (see photo to the right), which now also has community based rubbish collection (though no recycling), following a similar crisis there. Inhabitants of Petare denounced that the opposition mayor Carlos Oscariz only collected rubbish in the streets of the commercial centres and the middle class apartment buildings, and not the poor areas. He, and the governor of the area at the time; current opposition candidate to the presidential elections, Henrique Capriles, were focusing their time and resources on campaigning, and the streets were full of rubbish.

An environmental revolution?
Chavez’s proposed government plan for the next period, should he win the October election, includes a new section dedicated to the environment. So far, this has not been an environmental revolution. Consumerism hasn’t been tackled, public transport infrastructure has been constructed but car production has also increased. Over the last year the government has encouraged and supported urban agriculture across the country, which is a great complement to composting and worm farming, and community organisation of environmental sustainability. It also inaugurated the Kariña Socialist Oil Pipe Recuperation Factory in 2010, to recycle oil pipes into metal framing for construction, and also make bricks partially from recycled paper. Such initiatives make sense for their sustainability and their affordableness. The fifth section of Chavez’s plan then, provides the basis for a change in direction in Venezuela's state based and grassroots environmentalism, and we hope here in Merida that our EPS can be an example, or a pilot project for something more national.

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