International Governments and Movements Show Solidarity with Venezuela’s Chavez Ahead of Elections

by Rachael Boothroyd

September 27 2012 Presidents, politicians and various solidarity groups have sent public messages of support for current Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution ahead of next Sunday's presidential election.

Many of the statements praised the Bolivarian revolution for having given renewed importance to the debate on the relevance of socialism today and for providing an example of an alternative kind of political system for the world.

“We study the policies of the Bolivarian government in order to write our programme,” said François Delapierre, National Secretary of Luc Melenchon's “Left Party” in France, who stated he believed that the Venezuelan revolution was a “source of inspiration for the global left”.

Delapierre's colleague, Corinne Morel Darleux also went on to state that crisis-stricken Europe should follow the example set by Venezuela, which had presented a “new option” to the world.

“In Europe, we want to take the path of Venezuela, so resources are managed as a public good to generate social progress, so that there is a real redistribution (of wealth) and that the needs of the population are met,” she said. Both Delapierre and Darleux recently traveled to Caracas to attend the forum “Neo-liberalism of the Old World vs. Socialism of the New World” and were interviewed by state news channel AVN.
Both Argentinian President, Cristina Kirchner, and Uruguayan President, Pepe Mujica, also added their voices to the international comments in support of the Venezuelan president earlier this week.

While Mujica said that he believed Venezuela's future would be “complicated” if Chavez didn't win, Kirchner strongly rejected criticism of Chavez's commitment to democracy.

When asked at a conference in Georgetown, USA, whether Chavez would respect the results of the October elections, Kirchner replied that there was “no precedent” to doubt the incumbent president.

“There can't be any other Latin American president who has won so many elections,” said Kirchner. “I debate a lot with Hugo (Chavez), but I don't think it's possible to debate the democratic credibility of the president,” she added.

As the election draws nearer, various solidarity groups are organising rallies and events aimed at drawing attention to the Venezuelan elections and supporting the revolutionary process against possible intervention from abroad. Events were held this week in Houston, USA and Toronto, Canada.

One of the largest events was staged by the UK's Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC) in London, which was attended by over 300 activists.

“It was a very positive atmosphere, with people acknowledging that Venezuela shows a way forward in contrast to what is happening in Europe,” VSC activist Lee Brown told

Many British academics and activists spoke at the rally, including author Richard Gott and anti-war activist Kate Hudson, who described Venezuela as a “beacon of peace and social progress in the world”.

Meanwhile, almost 10 million people from over 100 countries have signed a statement drawn up by the Cuban branch of the Defence of Humanity Network in support of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution ahead of the elections.

The Irish Venezuela Network also released a statement calling for support of the Venezuelan electoral process and rejecting any foreign intervention in Venezuela’s affairs. It was supported by Irish politicians, trade unionists and cultural figures.
Various solidarity brigades from across the globe, including from Australia, Germany and Great Britain, are arriving to Caracas this week in order to observe the national elections. Many are eager to celebrate a Chavez victory.
Source URL

The Chávez Election
Steve Ellner

“You pay back a favour with favours,” said Joanna Figueroa, a resident of El Viñedo, a barrio in the coastal city of Barcelona in eastern Venezuela. She had pledged to work for the reelection of Hugo Chávez after receiving a house as part of the government's ambitious Great Housing Mission programme. She helped build it, as part of a “workers team” that included a bricklayer, a plumber and an electrician appointed by her community council. Her job was to mix cement. As Chávez followers keep saying of their feelings toward their president, “You pay back love with love.” The frequency with which the phrase is used shows the deep emotional bond that exists between Chávez and many Venezuelans.

Much is at stake in the presidential election due on 7 October. The opposition's candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, calls himself a reformer, free of any sort of ideology. Even so, he belongs to the conservative Justice First Party (MPJ), which stresses private investment and questions the effectiveness of state economic controls. The opposition has grown wiser since its failed coup in 2002 and its decision to boycott national elections. Now, opposition leaders fervently defend the 1999 constitution – which they opposed at the time, despite its overwhelming adoption in a popular referendum – and have even achieved a degree of unity under Capriles, nominated after a primary in February.

The achievements of the Housing Mission, building thousands of homes for the poor and including barrio residents in their planning and execution, does much to explain Chávez's lead in the polls. The opposition's claims that it is winning have a hollow ring: Chávez opponent and media owner Rafael Poleo recently attributed the “barren” results of an opinion poll in May to Capriles's “failure to go anywhere.” The Datanálisis survey gave Chávez a 43.6 per cent to 27.7 per cent lead over Capriles. It also indicated that 62.4 per cent of voters rate Chávez's performance as above average; 29.4 per cent consider it poor. Datanálisis is the most credible of the polling agencies with an impressive record. That its findings favour Chávez must annoy its owner, Luis Vicente León, who openly sides with the opposition.

The opposition's claims that it is winning have a hollow ring: Chávez opponent and media owner Rafael Poleo recently attributed the “barren” results of an opinion poll in May to Capriles's “failure to go anywhere.” The Datanálisis survey gave Chávez a 43.6 per cent to 27.7 per cent lead over Capriles. It also indicated that 62.4 per cent of voters rate Chávez's performance as above average; 29.4 per cent consider it poor.

13 Years and Counting
Chávez's lead is surprising as an erosion of support and enthusiasm for his movement is only to be expected after 13 years in power. His recent bout with cancer (his illness was originally announced without revealing the nature of the disease) might also not have helped. The opposition is quick to point out that the Chávez movement lacks a second-in-command who could step into the presidency and retain the nation's confidence. And pro-establishment media, in Venezuela and abroad, tie the issue of Chávez's health to the electoral contest: media expert Keane Bhatt notes that Reuters, Associated Press and the Miami Herald have stressed Capriles's “youthful energy” in contrast to Chávez's “frailty.”

The president's illness has now made his movement pay attention to his leadership, and even he has begun to recognize the downside of his all-encompassing power: while ministers have come and gone, Chávez – whose face appears on most Bolivarian political posters – stands as the sole embodiment of a political process that now depends upon him.

On a visit to Brazil in April 2010, he was asked about letting another leader emerge. “I do not have a successor in sight,” he answered. But there may be a change in thinking. Last year Chávez told a former adviser, the Spanish academic Juan Carlos Monedero, who had warned of the danger of “hyperleadership” in Venezuela: “I have to learn to delegate power more.” During his extended medical treatment, several top leaders filled the gap and emerged as possible successors: foreign minister Nicolás Maduro (a former trade union leader), who headed the commission that drafted the new labour law; executive vice president Elías Jaua (popular among the Chávez rank-and-file); National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello (a former army lieutenant with a pragmatic approach and strong backing among the armed forces). In May, the critical Monedero remarked that formerly “some of us saw the difficulties of continuing this process” without Chávez, but “now we have lost this fear because I see dozens of people who could continue the process without any problem.”

Pragmatism All Round.
The key to Chávez's political success is the continuous deepening of change. New programmes and goals, regularly formulated, invigorate the movement rank and file, as in the case of the Housing Mission. Chávez has come a long way since he was first elected president in December 1998, on a rather moderate platform to counter the polemical image he had acquired with his coup attempt seven years before. The moderate stage ended with the approval of a new constitution, the enactment of land reform and other radical social and economic legislation in 2001. Chávez embraced socialism in 2005, then nationalized strategic sectors such as telecommunications, banking, electricity and steel; since 2009 he has expropriated many smaller companies. These measures were accompanied by an escalation of rhetoric against the “bourgeoisie” and the “oligarchy” (terms which Chávez uses interchangeably) as well as against U.S. imperialism.

The expropriations were designed to achieve what Chávez calls “food sovereignty”: state-owned companies are now producing rice, coffee, cooking oil, milk and other foodstuffs. The latest in June was the production of sunflower oil-based mayonnaise, considered a superior variety. The increase in production and successful management of services, including food processing, banking and telecommunications, show that the government is capable of effective management. Difficulties in state-run heavy industries such as steel, aluminium and cement are the result of labour unrest and the lack of commercial networks. To overcome that, the government has expanded into commerce and sale of construction material direct to the community, eliminating middlemen (who are notorious for creating artificial scarcities).

The UN's Economic Commission on Latin America reports a 21 per cent reduction of poverty rates between 1999 and 2010. But the middle classes do not like this change. A recent survey by the Venezuela Institute of Data Analysis says that though Chávez leads Capriles by 20 per cent, relatively privileged voters support Capriles (with 52.5%; 32.5% for Chávez). Many vehemently oppose Chávez, partly out of fear, provoked by accusations from the opposition aired in the private media, that he means to eliminate private property. There is some evidence of class resentment toward the poor, who receive privileged treatment from government programmes. To neutralize this, the government has passed measures favouring the middle class, such as the sale of dollars at a special preferential exchange rate for foreign travel.

As Chávez has distanced himself from past policies, Capriles claims to be forward-looking. He points out that at 40, he is not tied to the mistaken policies of pre-1998 Venezuela – even those implemented by parties that endorse his candidacy. Capriles associates the “old way of doing politics” with the intolerance and polarization that characterized the past, as well as the present under Chávez. As proof, he pledges not to scrap but to improve the Chávez social programmes, which have been successful. He proposes to introduce a “Missions Equal for All Law,” which would guarantee equal treatment for non-government supporters in social programmes.
But though the opposition recognizes the government's social advances, the two leaders have conflicting economic policies, shown by their positions on company expropriations. For Chávez supporters, these help to create a mixed economy in the construction, banking and food sectors, in which monopolies and oligopolies now face competition from public companies, which combats artificially created scarcities. “We are in an election year, so why don't we have the scarcities we had in previous electoral cycles?” asks Irán Aguilera, a state congressman and Chávez supporter. “The answer is that state companies fill the gap created by the private sector for political reasons.”

Capriles has pledged to refrain from expropriating companies. “I'm not going to squabble with businessmen or anyone else,” he says. He claims, without statistics, that production in companies taken over by the state has declined sharply. He omits any reference to restrictions or conditions on foreign investments, which he hopes will help him reach his goal of creating 3 million jobs during his presidency. In a proposal with neoliberal implications, Capriles calls for the transformation of the state-run social security programme into a mixed system that would include “voluntary individual savings.” In another electoral statement, the alliance of parties that support Capriles, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), advocates making flexible the legislation that asserts state control over the oil industry “to promote competition and private participation in the industry.”

Capriles is not in the right place to go beyond the middle-class base of his MPJ party. He comes from a wealthy business family with multiple interests (real estate, industry, media), a background uncommon for Venezuelan politicians. He is also the former mayor of the municipality of Baruta, a fairly affluent community in Caracas. His boyish, middle-class appearance is hardly an asset in challenging Chávez's popularity in the barrios.

‘A Fraud and a Failure’
The MUD calls the Housing Mission “a fraud and a failure” and criticizes the government for expropriating land to build housing, and violating city zoning. Even so, the polling firm Hinterlaces indicates that, with a 76 per cent approval rating, the Housing Mission is the most popular government social programme. In May, information minister Andrés Izarra announced that the programme was on target with 200,000 units built since it began in 2011.

True to his military background, Chávez declared the Housing Mission to be an all-out war and enlisted the support of his entire government and movement. In some barrios, students in the makeshift high school programme, the Ribas Mission, receive scholarship money to form construction work “brigades.” But the centrepieces are the estimated 30,000 community councils, which date to a law passed in 2006: they hire skilled and unskilled workers, all of whom generally live in the community, and select the beneficiaries. The signature programme builds new houses in place of dilapidated ones. To avoid the previous misuse of funds, there are new mechanisms – paying workers only after jobs are satisfactorily completed, with cheques drawn on state-run banks rather than cash handled via community councils. Steps have been taken to avoid speculation through the resale of public houses. “There's a learning curve in which mistakes made at an earlier stage due to the lack of effective controls are being corrected,” says Leandro Rodríguez of the National Congress's Committee on Citizen Participation.

Chávez cleverly chose the eve of the 1 May holiday, at the height of the presidential campaign, to introduce the new Labour Law. This reduces the working week to 40 hours (from 44), bans outsourcing for ongoing jobs and increases pre- and post-natal paid time off to 26 weeks (from 18). It also re-establishes the old system of severance pay, which neoliberal-inspired legislation modified in 1997. On leaving a company, for whatever reason, workers will receive a payment based on their last monthly salary multiplied by the number of years of employment – a major trade union demand. Capriles has attacked the law on the grounds that it does nothing to deal with unemployment or to benefit those with unprotected casual jobs. He claims: “This is a law that Chávez came up with to help him win on 7 October.”

The outcome on 7 October will have a major impact throughout the continent. Capriles pledges to reestablish friendly relations with the U.S., and his close allies promise a thorough revision of Venezuela's aid programmes and alliances with the rest of Latin America. They also plan cheap credit arrangements with China in exchange for oil. When the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited in June, Capriles criticized the plethora of agreements signed with Iran, insisting instead that the government “look after the interests of Venezuela by generating employment for Venezuelans.”

Chávez has been a major promoter of Latin American unity, leading to the South American bloc organizations: the Union of South American Nations (Uuasur) headed by Chávez confidant Alí Rodríguez Araque), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) founded in Caracas last December), and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), bringing together Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. In June, the Latin American bloc energetically protested the removal of the pro-leftist president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, and by doing so, overshadowed the Washington-based Organization of American States and left the U.S. State Department on the sidelines. The firmest response came from Chávez who recalled his ambassador from Asunción and cut off the supply of oil, a measure criticized by Capriles.

The Hemisphere's Enemy Number One
Washington circles view Chávez as the ringleader of these expressions of Latin American nationalism and unity. For the right, and many in the political centre, Chávez is the hemisphere's enemy number one. Three weeks before stepping down as president of the World Bank in June, Robert Zoellick declared that “Chávez's days are numbered” and, with the elimination of his government's foreign subsidies, other nations such as Cuba and Nicaragua will “be in trouble.” This chain of events, according to Zoellick, will present “an opportunity to make the western hemisphere the first democratic hemisphere” as opposed to a “place of coups, caudillos, and cocaine.” Michael Penfold, writing in Foreign Affairs, warned: “If Chávez wins in October, a vast majority of the opposition's political capital will be dashed; in many ways, it will be back to square one.”

Even academics who are wary of extreme leftist trends in the continent distinguish between Chávez and other radicals such as Evo Morales. Maxwell Cameron and Kenneth Sharpe, in Latin America's Left Turn, claim that while Chávez has “made efforts to politicize state institutions... [and] create an official party under his control... Morales embodies a political movement in which the role of the leader is not to monopolize power.”

That Chávez has gone further than his leftist counterparts in Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere is also recognized on the other end of the political spectrum. Jeffery Webber, a Trotskyist academic and co-editor of a book on the Latin American left, views Morales as a “reconstituted neoliberal” but applauds Chávez's movement for “having done a great deal to rejuvenate the international critique of neoliberalism and to bring discussion of socialism back on the agenda.”

There is good reason why political actors and analysts of different ideological convictions single out Chávez for special treatment. Widespread expropriations and other reversals of neoliberal economic measures, the creation of a popular militia, the firm control of the armed forces, and the generous funding of programmes of international cooperation that bolster Venezuela's standing in Latin America are distinguishing features of the Chávez government unmatched elsewhere.
Deepening of Change

A Chávez victory in October will mean further deepening of change in Venezuela. New expropriations will create a mixed economy in important sectors stimulating competition between public and private companies. Chávez's proposals for 2013-2019 call for state incursions into commerce and transport, to the detriment of middlemen, through the creation of “centres of local distribution for the sale and direct distribution of products.”

Another far-reaching goal outlined in Chávez's electoral platform is the expansion of the power of community councils. Several hundred “communes in construction” group a dozen or more community councils each to undertake projects covering a wide area, such as gas and water distribution. Chávez proposes to promote the creation of new communes to represent 68 per cent of the population. The communes are to be granted the same prerogatives as state and municipal governments, including budgeting, participation in state planning and, eventually, tax collection.
A Chávez victory will feed into the “left tide” in Latin America at a critical moment and will undermine U.S. influence. The record of the left-leaning bloc and its banner of Latin American unity has been mixed recently. In 2009, the right triumphed in the presidential elections in Chile, but the popularity of its president Sebastián Piñera subsequently plummeted. In 2010, centrist candidate Juan Manuel Santos was elected president in Colombia, but he soon rallied to the shared aim of Latin American unity under the auspices of the left, and he has even allowed himself to disagree with Washington on key issues. Only Paraguay, with the removal in June of President Fernando Lugo, is now out of step with its neighbours.

But none of these developments matches the significance of the elections in Venezuela. A defeat for Chávez would represent (whatever his rival may say) a return to pre-1999 Venezuela. Another term in office would extend Chávez's reign to 18 years; that's a great deal, perhaps too much. Even so, Venezuela's social transformation over so long a period, under a democratically elected president, is without parallel in contemporary history. •

Steve Ellner began teaching at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela in 1977, is currently an adjunct professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. This article first published in Le Monde Diplomatique.

Sexual, Social, Political Identities and Chavistas

“Now is the time!”: Struggle for Sexual Diversity in Venezuela

An Interview with Maria Gabriela Blanco
Alianza sexo-género diversa revolucionaria
(Revolutionary Alliance of Sex-Gender, and Diversity, ASGDRe)

Under Hugo Chávez, there have been many gains in the struggle for liberation, including for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people (LGBT). Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed in the 1999 Labour Organic Law but anti-discrimination proposals were dropped from the 1999 Constitution due to pressure from the Catholic Church; same-sex couples cannot marry or adopt children and several proposals that would have advanced such struggles were defeated in the Constitutional referendum of 2007. There have always been diverse political currents within the LGBT community, but three years ago, the first revolutionary LGBT collective was formed. We caught up with one of its founding members, activist María Gabriela Blanco, at a meeting of the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Popular Alliance, APR) in Caracas.
— Susan Spronk and Jeffery R. Webber.

Susan Spronk and Jeffery R. Webber (SS and JRW): Can you tell me about how you became involved in the collective?
Maria Gabriela Blanco (MGB): The collective was founded on August 13, 2009. I became involved as an activist years ago when I was working for the government-run publishing house, Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana [Editorial Foundation The Dog and the Frog]. There were six of us who worked at the Editorial [who identified as queer] who were also militants in the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela [United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV] and formed an electoral battle unit (patrulla). We also participated in the organization of workers´ council initiatives. Many of us studied together at university and some of us met our partners there.

One of the first struggles that we were involved in that more explicitly focused on gender identity and sexual orientation was the gender equality law that was debated in the National Assembly. The members of the Assembly called for participation by lesbians, gays and transsexuals; one of the deputies called for our participation because she wanted to include an article in the law which forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We saw this as a great opportunity because we have generally been invisible in the Revolution. But there are still many members of the National Assembly, even those who identify as Chavistas, such as Marelis Peres Marcano, the president of the commission, who say things like, “This is not the right time to discuss such matters because we are talking about the family, men and women.” But Deputies Flor Ríos and Romelia Matute spoke out in favour of our struggle, arguing that sexual identity is fluid and changes over time.

The whole process of debating this law was very annoying because it took so long, six months sitting at the table with no results. The members of the National Assembly had to deal with pressure from all sides, from collectives representing lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and gays from the right and from the left; at that point there were very few queer collectives on the left. There was only one that was serious, the Divas de Venezuela, which has since joined us. We did not win in our battle for the gender law. We interviewed one of the deputies who supported us, and she told us that we needed to organize and fight.

We were tired of the fact that after 7-8 years of revolution no one was talking about sexual diversity; the revolution is still too conservative. We decided that we needed to do something about it. We contacted one collective but it was clearly a right-wing organization and then we found Divas de Venezuela, which is not an organization that works in a ‘ghetto,’ [she means wealthy neighbourhoods] but one that works right in the heart of the struggle in the barrio ‘23 de enero’ [a poor neighbourhood in Caracas with a long history of revolutionary struggle]. There we found a transsexual dance teacher (called Rummie Quintero) who works with children; she is very well respected in the community. We started to meet with her and to organize.

Amongst us there are many artists, such as a graphic designer and writers. The six of us worked with Rummie, and two or three other queers came along who joined us. We started to paint graffiti in public places in the shape of a clock, which instead of hands had symbols of women with women or men with men to indicate that “Now is the time!” We have created different images that express our diversity and our commitment to revolution, especially to vindicate the struggle of transsexuals because within the patriarchal system that we live in (even more than the capitalist system because patriarchy came first), this struggle is one of the most oppressed amongst us.

Now many others have also joined us from other struggles, such as the Movimiento de Pobladores, or Poor People's Movement (MP) and the campesino movement. We are also part of the APR, which brings together a variety of different movements. Our struggle is not just about diversity; everyone talks about ‘diversity’ since the NGO boom. Transsexuals such as Rummie argued that she does not feel included in this language about ‘diversity’ since it is fundamentally about gender identity. So we decided on the name Alianza sexo-género diversa revolucionaria; we added the ‘revolutionary’ part because we are Chavistas.

We are also clear that we are not defined solely by our sexual orientation and gender identities. This aspect of our identity is the last thing that defines us, because we are also women [and men], afro-descendants, indigenous, poor, and Chavista, but we see our struggle as part of the struggle against the capitalist system that oppresses us. This makes us different from other right-wing queer collectives that only focus on orientation and identity. For example, there is a famous activist called Tamara Adrián, a transsexual who argues for the right to change our names, but she is wealthy. Our struggle is also a class struggle. Our priority is the most oppressed people – the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and heterosexuals who are also working-class.

Sometimes other Chavistas criticize us for being ‘anarchists’ because we criticize the government, but we are drawing attention to the discrimination that exists within our movements and the institutions of the state. It is the whole system that needs to change; this change will require more than a law. But we have had some successes in legal battles. We had good experiences working with the renters’ movement to discuss a law related to housing. They invited us to the debate because we had been working with them already. This was a really great experience because there are now two articles in this law prohibiting landlords from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The popular participation law also makes reference to the principle of non-discrimination. The right wing cannot say that there have been no advances for queers. There have been many victories and advances in our struggle under Chávez.

We are currently based in Caracas, and most of our members are from the city. We have a listserv of about 24 people, but there are about 15 of us who are active in person on a regular basis. It is a strength that most of us work, but it is difficult to find a time when everyone can meet. Every Monday evening we meet at the Plaza Bolívar – almost religiously – at the same time. Everyone is welcome to join: lesbians, gays, bisexuals, poly-amorous people, transsexuals, and heterosexuals, too. Now we publish our own political bulletin. We also have a column in Todosadentro, which is a weekly magazine published by the Ministry of Culture, and in Epale, another publication in Caracas. We are writing about sexual sovereignty and sovereignty over our bodies in these columns. We also participate in a radio show called “In Check” [En Jaque] that takes place at 2PM on Tuesdays, every second Tuesday, which we help to co-produce. We have also made appearances on feminist TV shows such as, “Fallopian Tube” [El Entrompe de Falopio], which runs in Caracas and on national television, and a radio program, “Diverse but not Perverse” [Diversos No Perversos], which airs on National Venezuelan Radio.

SS and JRW: Chávez has been talking about ‘socialism’ in Venezuela since 2005. What does ‘socialism’ mean to the collective?
MGB: This is a difficult issue for the collective, not because of the process itself but because Latin America remains very sexist (machista). Not to be too pessimistic, but Venezuela remains very patriarchal. Speaking of the election campaign, for example, there was a bad joke insulting an opposition candidate [a male] as being ‘feminine.’ But it is not correct to make fun of the ‘feminine.’ In the same revolutionary process with a President [Chávez] who identifies as a feminist, who identifies this process as a socialist and feminist process, or as a feminist and socialist process, this is a contradiction. So we have to encourage critical reflection amongst our compañeros, in our neighbourhoods and in our workplaces, to identify this contradiction that they are making fun of the ‘feminine.’ After all, at the base of homophobia is a kind of sexism, to suppose that anything that is feminine about a man is a kind of weakness. This is how we started to approach the problem.

In 2010 Chávez called forth the homosexuals, the youth, to join the process (‘el proceso’). While he was saying this we were recording it, sending it to each other as text messages, and we put it on Facebook. Obviously the right made fun of this. But this kind of discrimination crosses political lines, whether you are revolutionary of not. It affects the left and the right. Once you are in the kitchen, a left-wing sexist is the same as a right-wing sexist, even though there shouldn't be sexism (machismo) on the left. After that moment we had even greater resolution in giving our support to Chávez. He called for us to struggle the same way that he called for the participation of the afro-descendants, the campesinos, the fishermen and the fisherwomen. The fact that he named us meant that our struggles are recognized, although before we would march without anyone seeing us.

Once we formed the ASGDRe, we decided that our first march would be with the Poor People's Movement (MP). We made our own 3-metre sign that had our name and called for the right to housing for same-sex couples and the right to live in dignity. We also carried a flag with rainbow colors. We wanted other people to see us for who we are, and since we have articulations with militants in all different movements, they gave us their support. For the first half hour we were really tense but we managed to get over it and just march. The rainbow flag did not have anything written on it. But the signs did say something and we marched with them. Now people make rainbow flags of 100 metres and everyone marches behind them. You will see the flag in barrios such as Antímano, in Petare [poor neighbourhoods in Caracas].

We support Chávez because even in his Plan 2013-2019, he talks about how we queers have lived in a situation of repression and that the only way out of this state is to overcome the capitalist system [she refers us to article of the electoral platform]. This consumerist system that we live in has caused a lot of divisions, even amongst us queers. We discriminate even amongst ourselves. The gay and lesbian bars in Caracas, for example, do not let in transsexuals. They suffer total discrimination unless they have money. So, rich transsexuals such as Tamara Adrián (who I mentioned earlier) can get in but other compañeras, no. So she makes a denouncement about human rights but it does not advance beyond that. Of course, this is not to say that she has not done good things.

But before, these gay ‘ghettos’ were the only places that I could go because I had to hide. I had to adopt another personality when I was with my family or at the university; spaces for us would open at 4 or 5 in the afternoon – these spaces with shaded doorways, with no light inside, and music so loud that no one could talk. Most people would go there to meet someone like them. But now that I am Chavista, I am out to part of my family and I go to conventional places.

Once I was with my partner in a shopping centre – again, this will not happen to you if you have money – and they told us that, “This is a family establishment.” We paid the bill but they had the police escort us until we had left the shopping centre. So what is the Venezuelan state doing so that everybody can enjoy public spaces? In the PDVSA Estancia [a recreation centre owned by the state oil company] they will not let same-sex couples hold hands because they say that it is a “place for families” and that “there are children present.” Che talked about how revolution is about love. We are not having sexual relations when we are simply holding hands!

These problems are not the fault of the revolution but the legacy of the bourgeois state – at least now we have the advantage of having a collective, to be able to understand what is happening. We are fighting so that this ‘socialist’ system recognizes diversity. We are fighting so that within our popular movement there is diversity of thought but unity in action – this is the idea behind the revolution. But we still have structures of the state – this state which is not socialist – that are going to repress us. We have to know who we are with and who we are against. There are still a few things about which we need critical reflection. PDVSA is the economic arm of this rent-dependent, petroleum-producing country. But we have to join the debate because there is no way that we can beat this capitalist system if we cannot debate others from the popular movement. And our strength is that we have spaces in which popular education (formación popular) is taking place. These are not academic workshops, but popular spaces in which we learn from the people, like the communal councils.

SS and JRW: What is the importance of the elections on October 7, 2012?
MGB: In this movement there is broad agreement that we are not playing around, that we are finally declaring our independence, as argued by José Martí. If we win these elections it is going to deepen the process. This process has many problems since we are in a transition. There are still many vices of capitalism. I am twenty-eight years old; I was born in capitalism and I have the same vices. I have never known anything else. But now we are talking about other forms of property, other ideas.
Right now I work in a social production enterprise, trying to work with the communities to socialize property and production. I am not only a homosexual [she says laughing]. And although we have control over the political because we have the government, we do not have control over the economic. Chávez has told us this same thing many times. It is no secret. But we are advancing with this new model of production and management, and advancing in how we see ourselves as workers and as producers; we are not going to have these discussions if Chávez leaves.

We have to work to guarantee the vote. The reason that the President is there is that he is the figurehead who moves us emotionally, who unites those of us from the base, who inspires the popular movements. He is carrying the process but we are responsible for it. Without a doubt, there have been so many gains and a million demands; our movement is not yet as advanced as others such as the campesino movement, or the movement of renters. I do not know anyone who has been unaffected by this process: a friend who received a new house because theirs was destroyed in a flood, another who has participated in one of the missions. Here we have free education. There is free health care, even if it is not the best (although Michael Moore shows how the U.S. claim to the best health care is a lie). The media outside of Venezuela misrepresents this process; Chávez is the most democratic president this country has ever had. •

Susan Spronk teaches international development at the University of Ottawa. She is a research associate with the Municipal Services Project and has published various articles on working-class formation and water politics in Latin America.
Jeffery R. Webber teaches politics and international relations at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of Red October: Left Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (Haymarket, 2012).

Refinery Blaze: Seven Good Reasons to Suspect SabotageBy James Petras
Global Research, September 01, 2012

“You can’t exclude any hypothesis … It’s practically impossible that here in an [oil] installation like this which is fully automated everywhere and that has thousands of responsible workers night and day, civilian and military, and that there is a gas leak for 3 or 4 days and nobody responds. This is impossible.”

President Chavez responding to U.S. media and opposition charges that the explosion at the oil refinery was due to government negligence.

Only 43 days before the Venezuelan presidential election and with President Chavez leading by a persistent margin of 20 percentage points, an explosion and fire at the c killed at least 48 people – half of those were members of the National Guard – and destroyed oil facilities producing 645,000 barrels of oil per day.

Immediately following the explosion and fire, on script, all the mass media in the US and Great Britain , and the right wing Venezuelan opposition launched a blanket condemnation of the government as the perpetrator of the disaster accusing it of “gross negligence” and “under-investment” in safety standards.

Yet there are strong reasons to reject these self-serving accusations and to formulate a more plausible hypothesis, namely that the explosion was an act of sabotage, planned and executed by a clandestine group of terrorist specialists acting on behalf of the U.S. government. There are powerful arguments to sustain and pursue this line of inquiry.

The Argument for Sabotage:
(1) The first question in any serious investigation is who benefits and who loses from the destruction of lives and oil production?

The U.S. is a clear winner on several crucial fronts. Firstly, via the economic losses to the Venezuelan economy – 2.5 million barrels in the first 5 days and counting – the loss will put a dent on social spending and delay productive investments which in turn are key electoral appeals of the Chavez presidency. Secondly, on cue the US joined by its client candidate,Henrique Capriles Radonski, immediately launched a propaganda blitz aimed at discrediting the government and calling into question its capacity to ensure the security and safety of its citizens and the principle source of the country’s wealth. Thirdly, the explosion creates insecurity and fear among sectors of the electorate and could influence their voting in the October presidential election. Fourthly, the US can test the effectiveness of a wider destabilization campaign and the government’s capacity to respond to any further security threats.

(2) According to official government documents the U.S. has Special Forces operations in over seventy-five countries, including Venezuela , which is targeted because of an adversarial relation. This means that the US has operative clandestine highly trained operatives on the ground in Venezuela . The capture of a US Marine for illegal entry in Venezuela with prior experience in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan is indicative.

(3) The US has a history of involvement in violent destabilization activity in Venezuela – backing the military coup of 2002 and the bosses’ lockout in the petroleum industry in 2003. The U.S. targeting of the oil industry involved sabotage of the computerized system and efforts to degrade the refineries.

     (4) The U.S. has a history of sabotage and violence against incumbent adversarial regimes. In Cuba during 1960, the CIA torched a department store and sugar plantations, and planted bombs in the downtown tourist centers   – aiming to undermine strategic sectors of the economy. In Chile following the election of Socialist Salvador Allende, a CIA backed right-wing group kidnapped and assassinated the military attache of Socialist President, in an effort to provoke a military coup. Similarly in Jamaica in the late 1970’s under democratic socialist President Manley, the CIA facilitated a violent destabilization campaign in the run-up to the elections. Sabotage and destabilization is a common weapon in the face of impending electoral defeats (as is the case in Venezuela) or where a popular government is firmly entrenched.

 (5) Force, violence and destabilization campaigns against incumbent regimes have become common operation procedure in current U.S. policy. The US has financed and armed terrorist groups in Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Chechnya; it is bombing Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. In other words U.S. foreign policy is highly militarized and opposed to any negotiated diplomatic resolution of conflicts with adversarial regimes. Sabotaging Venezuela’s oil refineries is within the logic and practice of current global US foreign policy.

(6) Domestic politics in the U.S. has taken a further turn to the far right in both domestic and foreign policy. The Republican Party has accused the Democrats of pandering to Iran, Venezuela , Cuba and Syria – of not going to war.

 The Obama regime has responded by escalating its military policies – battleships, missiles are aimed at Iran . He has supported Miami’s demand for “regime change” in Cuba as a prelude to negotiations. Washington is channeling millions of dollars via NGO’s to the Venezuelan opposition – for electoral and destabilization purposes. No doubt the opposition includes employees, engineers and others with security clearance and access to the petroleum industry. Obama has consistently taken violent actions to demonstrate that he is as militarist as the Republicans. In the midst of a close election campaign, especially with a tight race in Florida , the sabotage of the Venezuelan refineries plays well for Obama.

(7) With a little more than a month left before the elections, and President Chavez is showing a 20 percentage point advantage; the economy is on track for a steady recovery; social housing and welfare programs are consolidating massive low income support or over 80%; Venezuela has been admitted into MERCOSUR the powerful Latin American integration program; Colombia signed off on a mutual defense agreement with Venezuela; Venezuela is diversifying its overseas markets and suppliers. What these facts indicate is that Washington has no chance of defeating Chavez electorally;it has no possibility of using its Latin neighbors as a springboard for territorial incursions or precipitating a war for regime change; and it has no chance of imposing an economic boycott.

Given Washington’s declared enmity and designation of Chavez as “a threat to hemispheric security” and faced with the utter failure of its other policy tools, the resort to violence and, in this specific case, sabotage of the strategic petrol sector emerges as the policy of choice. Washington , by revealing its resort to clandestine terror, represents a clear and present danger to Venezuela ’s constitutional order, an immediate threat to the life blood of its economy and of the democratic electoral process. 

Hopefully, the Chavez government, backed by the vast majority of its citizens and constitutionalist armed forces will take the necessary comprehensive security measures to ensure that there is no repeat of the petrol sabotage in other sectors, like the electrical grid. Public weakness in the face of imperial belligerence only encourages further aggression. No doubt heightened public security in defense of the constitutional order will be denounced by the US government, media and their local clients as “authoritarian” and claim that protection of the national patrimony infringes on ‘democratic freedoms’. No doubt they prefer a weak security system to ply their violent provocations. Subsequent to their decisive electoral defeat they will claim fraud or interference. All this is predictable, but the vast majority of voters who assemble, debate and cast their ballots will feel secure and look forward to another four years of peace and prosperity, free from terror and sabotage.