“Special Economic Zones” and Streamlined Currency Exchange

Venezuelan President Calls for Dialogue With Private Sector,
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

The Venezuelan government hopes to encourage more foreign investment and a better relationship with the business community, President Nicolas Maduro stated yesterday.

Announcing the creation of a “National Savings Fund for Foreign Exchange”, Maduro said the government hopes to make currency exchange easier not only for businesses, but also “travellers, students” and Venezuelans living abroad.

In a meeting with business leaders in Zulia state, Maduro indicated that changes to current currency controls are needed not only to “overcome the parallel dollar”, but also address a backlog of currency exchange applications.

According to Maduro, there are pending applications for currency exchanges at the government rate dating back to 2011.

He also invited the private sector to work more with the government to contribute to the “development of the productive forces and the country's economy”, and announced plans to create “Special Economic Zones” in some regions. These zones would be granted special tax conditions, as well as other incentives to encourage foreign investment. Although he gave few details, Maduro indicated that they would be modeled on those that developed during China's trade liberalisation of the 1980's.

Maduro stated that more details will be announced soon, and Finance Minister Nelson Merentes will hold a series of meetings with business leaders across the country from 2 May. The meetings will focus on issues related to currency exchange, though Maduro also stated that the government will prioritise tackling inflation.

“We are in a transition process towards building a socialist economic model that merits the promotion of a special plan of a productive economic revolution, and that includes the participation of different sectors,” he said.

Maduro described the private sector as having the financial and political freedom to participate in an “economic revolution” to raise productivity and self sustainability.

“We have a strong and powerful domestic market with purchasing capacity, because we have a population with job security, good income and strong wages...Now we need a production system to respond to this,” he said.
Mérida, 26th April 2013 www.venezuelanalysis.com

ALBA as a road to “21st century socialism

Hugo Chávez: Tribune of world’s dispossessed
By John Riddell

Hugo Chávez was not only a great Bolivarian patriot; he was a tribune of the world’s dispossessed.
• At an anti-imperialist conference in Cairo in 2007, I heard Chávez hailed for his solidarity with Palestinians as “a better Arab than the Arabs”; “closer to us than the Arabs that impose injustice.”

• Chávez, the first Latin American president to declare himself of African descent, proclaimed in 2005, “Every day we are much more aware of the roots we have in Africa.”

• Under Chávez, Venezuela provided the tormented nation of Haiti with subsidized oil, infrastructure, and support for Cuban medical assistance. The U.S. ambassador there grumbled in 2007, “Chávez is winning friends and influencing people at our expense.”

• “President Chávez was a friend of White Earth Nation…. He cared for the poor,” said Minnesota indigenous leader Erma Vizenor on his death. Venezuela donated heating fuel to hundreds of thousands of needy U.S. residents and to native peoples across the country.

• Venezuelan aid to the Nicaraguan people included “subsidized oil – provided throughout the region – aid for small farmers and underpaid public employees, and significant investment to aid the hemisphere’s second-poorest economy.” (Felipe Cournoyer, Managua. But Venezuelan aid is not charity. It is founded on mutual solidarity, expressed above all through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). Chávez was ALBA’s prime mover.

In its 2008 program, Quebec’s new broad workers’ party, Québec Solidaire (QS), hailed ALBA as the kind of treaty that Quebec needs, one “based on individual and collective rights, respect for the environment, and a widening of democracy.” Indeed, ALBA, like QS itself, is based on defense of national sovereignty. Its core members, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, have swung into action against several rightist coup attempts – winning striking victories in Bolivia and Ecuador.

Responding to Simón Bolívar’s dream of sovereignty through regional integration, ALBA emerged from resistance to the blows of neoliberalism and U.S. plans to impose “free” trade. As Paul Kellogg has written, ALBA is a “’counter-hegemonic’ approach to the processes of globalization” that have dominated the region for some decades.

The ALBA blueprint aims to conduct trade on the basis of solidarity, protected from the blows of the capitalist world market. True, ALBA does not go beyond capitalism. Nor has the revolution that Chávez led in Venezuela been able, so far, to overcome capitalist power in either the economy or the state bureaucracy. Yet Chávez framed ALBA as a road to “21st century socialism.” Certainly the growth of such a sovereign multinational alliance would improve the prospects of a future socialist undertaking.

Chávez spearheaded the development of broader instruments of regional unity: UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). CELAC has united all states of “Nuestra América” in fraternal alliance, while excluding – to the joy of North American socialists – the obtrusive regimes of the United States and Canada. And Chávez reached beyond the continent, including by building a relationship with Iran in defiance of the U.S.-led blockade.

The government in the country where I live, Canada, responded harshly to the Venezuelan people’s freedom struggle. Canada began subsidizing the right-wing opposition to Chávez. It tried to counter Venezuela’s growing international influence. The media spread slanders that Chávez was a “dictator.” When Chávez died, Canada’s official reaction was seen by many in Venezuela as a calculated insult to his memory.

Yet as Maria Paez Victor, a Venezuelan-Canadian defender of the Bolivarian movement, reports, “whenever I have had frank conversations with Canadians about Hugo Chávez, the overwhelming reaction has been that of pleasant surprise.” Visitors returning from Venezuela report gains for the poor and marginalized, particularly in political leverage and self-government. Despite the blows of the old elite, a vibrant movement for socialism has come into being.

And this, according to Chilean writer Marta Harnecker, was “Chávez’s chief legacy.” He chose the term 21st century socialism so as not to “fall into the errors of the past” and the “Stalinist deviation,” she writes. Hugo Chávez has helped socialism begin to win a new and broader hearing from the world’s peoples.

Capriles, Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

The Winner of Venezuela’s Election to Succeed Hugo Chávez Is Hugo Chávez

By Greg Grandin - The Nation, April 17th 2013

On April 14, Venezuelans went to the polls and elected Hugo Chávez’s former foreign minister and vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, president. It was a close race, closer than many thought it would be. The man he beat was Henrique Capriles Radonski, Chávez’s unsuccessful challenger in last October’s presidential election.

When Chávez died in early March, Capriles had been in Manhattan, where his family owns a number of apartments on the Upper East Side. He quickly flew back to Caracas to announce that he would run again for president in the special election to replace Chávez. Few observers, even among his supporters, thought Capriles, who had just lost to Chávez by more than ten points, had a chance. But he mounted a strong, energetic campaign and came within less than two points of beating Maduro. This election’s turnout was just below October’s contest, which means that Capriles better showing came mostly from former Chávez voters who this time cast their ballot for him.

There are many interesting things to be said about this election, one being that it really wasn’t a fight over ideology. Maduro, who had been directly named by Chávez as his preferred replacement, ran as the Chavista candidate. But in a way so did Capriles, who pledged to be a better administrator of the society Chávez left behind.

Capriles - a Bolivarian?
Already during his previous campaign, Capriles drew sharp criticism from Venezuela’s oligarch irreconcilables for basically running as a third-world socialist. He repeatedly compared himself to Brazil’s leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, saying that he would keep in place all of Chávez’s social missions, which deliver health care, education, housing, childcare and other services to the urban and rural poor. Capriles, who in 2002 supported the failed US-backed coup against Chávez, even announced that he was a “Bolivarian,” an act that just a few years earlier would have been as unthinkable as Dick Cheney declaring himself a member of Code Pink.

During this election, Capriles went even further. He named his campaign team after Simón Bolívar and said he would not only defend the misiones but create new ones. He promised to dramatically increase salaries and pensions and began to work phrases associated with Chávez into his speeches, even copying symbols of the Bolivarian Revolution into his campaign paraphernalia. In other words, the close results of the election can’t be interpreted as a rejection of Chavismo, since Capriles ran promising to consolidate the gains of Chavismo, saying that he, and not Maduro, was be a better executor of Chávez’s legacy.

Capriles - a wolf in sheep's clothing
Had he won, Capriles undoubtedly would have quickly reverted to his earlier coup-supporting incarnation and began the dismantling—or at least try to. But the genie let loose by the Bolivarian Revolution won’t be easily put back in the bottle. Over the course of the last fourteen years, Chávez presided over both a radical expansion of the public debate—including redefining democracy to mean social democracy—and a radical expansion of who has access to that debate. He helped set in motion a process by which millions of people who had been formally excluded from political decision-making today think of themselves as protagonists, including thousands, perhaps upward of a million, of Colombian migrants, many of them domestic workers and laborers, who were brought out of the shadows by an immigration reform that the US would do well to imitate. That Capriles’ only ticket into Venezuela’s political arena was to accept this new reality suggests that, whatever the future may hold, the winner of last week’s election was Chávez himself.

More than this, the fact that so many Venezuelans seemingly made a conscious, considered decision to switch their votes confirms what supporters of Venezuelan democracy have been saying for years: people voted for Chávez because they wanted to vote for Chávez, not because they were gulled, duped, bribed or intimidated into doing so.

Polls - sense of voter motivation
That said, what happened? Maduro was expected to win handily, by about the same percentage Chávez did in October. There aren’t reliable exit polls that might provide a sense of voter motivation, but, as I have written earlier in The Nation, Chávez’s electoral support largely fell into two broad constituencies. The first included Venezuelans involved in social movements—the vibrant organizations George Ciccariello-Maher writes about in his terrific new book, We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution—whose activism makes Venezuela one of the most democratic countries in the world. The second was made up of unorganized voters, many from the middle class, who didn’t necessarily think they were building twenty-first century socialism but believed, all things considered, that their lives were better as a result of Chávez’s redistributive policies. My guess is that it is this second group, concerned with crime, violence and corruption that, unimpressed with Maduro, swung to Capriles.

The election was undoubtedly a wake-up call for Chavismo. Maduro, a former bus driver and a union leader with a more organic relationship with the social movements than any of the other politicians who could have been tapped as Chávez’s successor, should take the nail-biter as an warning that while many Venezuelans want a more just society, they also want their garbage picked up, their streets safe, their electricity steadily delivered and, in general, more efficient and less corrupt government.

Here’s the thing though: coming so close to winning has had a dangerously regressive effect on the opposition. It took the Venezuelan oligarchy and old political elites about seven years to finally, grudgingly accept the legitimacy of Hugo Chávez, and only after they nearly destroyed the country with paralyzing strikes, coup plots and other actions meant to destabilize and disrupt.

A recount would confirm Maduro's win
But now the opposition, giddy by its unexpectedly strong performance, sensing weakness on the part of Maduro, and believing the restoration of their class and race privilege is in sight, is once again hurtling toward the precipice. Capriles is refusing to accept the results of the election, and hence Maduro’s legitimacy, giving a confrontational speech demanding a full recount and calling for street protests. Anything could happen, but, considering the integrity of Venezuela’s voting system, a recount will most likely confirm Maduro’s win. A 250,000 plus vote margin is hard to overcome.

In other words, we might be starting from day one, witnessing the beginning of a whole new cycle of polarization, in which the opposition returns to its maximalist program of antagonism. It’s too early to say how bad things will get, but already there are reports that on the Monday night after Capriles’ speech, his rampaging supporters left four Chavistas dead (you would never know it from reading Human Rights Watch’s coverage, but the primary victims of political violence in Venezuela over the last fourteen years have in fact been supporters of Chávez, including peasants trying to make good on land reform).

In turn, Maduro, denied the time and stability to work on pressing matters of public administration, will be forced to respond, to take measures to try to once again socialize the oligarchy, its political agents and representatives in the media, measures which (however mild compared to, say, that catastrophe unfolding in Colombia or Honduras) will be denounced by Washington and its adjuncts like Human Rights Watch and the mainstream media.

In the past, Chávez’s charisma, his light touch despite his often rhetorical bombast, his ability to bring some key opponents back into the fold, to make unexpected alliances, helped defuse social tension at key moments. It’s one of the reasons why Venezuela, despite an often excess of extreme rhetoric, didn’t spiral into the kind of violence often associated with other revolutions. Let’s hope Maduro can develop similar skills to set the agenda and not be provoked by the opposition’s provocations.

Venezuela a remarkable experiment
Stepping back from Venezuela, what we are witnessing in Latin America is that the remarkable experiment in social democracy, the beginning of which can be dated to Chávez’s election in 1998, is outliving its first generation of leaders. Before Chávez died last month, Argentina’s Néstor Kirchner had passed away in 2010. In Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who too was afflicted with a threatening cancer but has recovered, announced he would not run for president in the future. Latin America’s New Left is entering its next, more challenging stage, and once again it seems that Venezuela is in the vanguard.

Venezuela's revolution -- its humanity and solidarity

Understanding the Venezuelan Presidential Election Outcome
By Tamara Pearson
April 15th 2013

Things are chaotic here, as we recover from the surprise, disappointment, and a bit of hurt from the election results, but also go out in the street to express our support for those results, and to defend the national electoral system, one of the best and most secure voting systems in the world in a country which just loves to vote. We move quickly from sad last night to concerned and determined today, as the caceroles sound around the neighbourhoods and the opposition hangs outside the National Electoral Council (CNE) here in Merida, hundreds of them walking around with rocks and glass bottles in their hands, itching to have something to react to.

Still, as the pan clanging sounds around my neighbourhood and people shout “out! Out!” [referring to the government], making it just a little hard to think, it is important to understand yesterday’s results, as that helps us to understand the situation we’re in now, and plan somewhat for the future.

Why did so many switch sides?
With the vote count updated this morning; 99.17% of votes counted, we see that 14,961,701 people voted this time, down just 214,552 from October’s presidential elections. That makes it clear that around 630-705,000 voters switched sides from voting for Chavez to voting for Capriles. The Chavista vote went down from 8,191,132 votes last October to 7,559,349 yesterday, and Capriles’ vote went up from 6,591,304 votes last year to 7,296,876 yesterday. Maduro beat Capriles then by 1.77% of the vote- close, although other elections around the world have been much closer.

The question though that many are wondering, is why did those voters switch to Capriles, rather than abstain? And secondly, how did the difference between the two sides narrow so much in the last week, given polls leading up to the election were predicting a 10-18% lead for Maduro?

It’s not common for voting trends to change so quickly, especially in the short amount of time that we had for this election. The election was called for 5 weeks after Chavez died, and there were only 10 days officially allowed for campaigning, though Capriles started his speaking tour of the country straight away. However, this wasn’t a common election. It was brought about by Chavez’s passing. It started with us watching millions of people queuing to say goodbye to him, and frankly, we felt confident. We had won in October and in the December state elections, and we saw the outpouring of love for Chavez. The sense of who we had lost was so profound, it was hard to imagine people nonchalantly voting for his adversary in just over a month’s time. Yet over the last week, I felt the mood change. It seemed we started to get just a bit tired, after a month’s of campaigning and mourning, and that Capriles’ supporters became incredibly confident.

Revolution vs capitalism
The campaign stakes became continuing the beautiful, dignified, and very problematic revolution after Chavez, verses a tempting “change” after 14 years of Chavismo. Those who switched over, who chose “change”, were tempted by the *end to all problems* that Capriles promised. They believed you can just vote away all the problems that have continued or arisen over the last 14 years. They were short sighted and affected by the sabotage, by the fairly intense food shortages over the last month, the more frequent blackouts, and other problems that the private media conjured up.

The choice, this idea of voting for a revolution, for the dignity of the poor, and of the third world, was a lovely thing to get to vote on. Most of us understood it wasn’t about Maduro, about individual candidates, but about revolution v capitalism and imperialism. Yet that sort of campaign is not easy in a world where capitalism is still hegemonic. That sort of campaign requires, I think, a higher ideological strength of most Venezuelans.

The narrow victory draws our attention to some of the failures and challenges of the revolution. Although Venezuelan political consciousness, discussion, knowledge of history, interest in the media and so on is so much higher than in other countries without a revolution, the government has still focused too much on slogans, on key words like “imperialism” and socialism, and not enough on broad participation in debate and deepening political understanding. That was reflected in Maduro’s campaign, which focused on Chavez's memory, on continuing basic government social achievements such as the missions, but which de-emphasised just what Chavez stood for; his ideas, the battle for humanity, for economic justice, etc.

Revolution needs better communication
Further, the government hasn’t in the past, and didn’t during this campaign, explain the economic situation. It did not explain the devaluation well (nor consult the people on such a big economic decision, which might not have been a bad idea). We’ve gone 4 to 5 months without toothpaste in the shops, and we don’t know why. Further, the government either hasn’t done anything about the situation (found the hoarders, come down on Colgate for it, redistribute the hoarded toothpaste) or hasn’t told us what it has done.

When people lack a high political consciousness, it’s easy for them to become a little tired of no oil, or toothpaste, or margarine. Or the price of beer doubling in a month. Or the occasional black out. The government’s communication with the people needs to improve drastically. Further, in 14 years a lot has been addressed- we all know the list of inspiring achievements, but some problems such as bureaucracy, crime, and corruption persist, and it seems some people hope someone else will solve them.

Chavismo without Chavez
Further, there is the idea of Chavismo without Chavez. According to a GISXXI poll conducted a few weeks before the elections, 20% of Chavez supporters believed there is no Chavismo without Chavez. While that is positive, in that 80% understand that its up to us to take responsibility and continue the revolution, that’s 20% of the Chavista support base who saw Chavismo as being about a specific leader, only, and would therefore be vulnerable to swinging their vote. In Merida, the rally for Maduro was about the same size (perhaps 10 blocks or so long) as when Chavez spoke here before the October elections. It gave me hope that most people understood that “we’re all Chavez” means that we keep fighting. I think it’s the Chavez voters who don’t attend such rallies, and some of the bureaucrats, who would likely have switched sides. That means we can be clearer now about our real support base.

Maduro’s campaign itself had its challenges and weaknesses. Unlike Capriles, who had already run in February (in primaries), and in October, then in December to win as governor of Miranda, Maduro had never campaigned before. He had little time to learn how to do it, and to consolidate himself as a possible leader in people’s eyes.

It has been a general strategy of the Chavez government to tone down its radical and ideological discourse in the lead-up to elections, and Maduro did the same thing. However in light of Capriles basically promising an improved version of the social aspects of the revolution, this time that might have meant that some people found it hard to see the difference. Of course the difference is huge, but I think Maduro failed to define what revolution without Chavez is. Rather than spending 40 minutes at the Merida rally talking about the bird that talked to him and spirituality, he should have talked about the meat of this revolution, its humanity, its solidarity – things the opposition doesn’t understand and doesn’t fight for.

On the other hand, this time round, from the side of the grassroots, this campaign was much more creative. Around Merida, clever, beautiful, and moving murals popped up everywhere. The PSUV youth painted huge banners and stopped the traffic in different points around the city. People worked really really hard.

Right-wing began campaign before Chavez died
The opposition however, had the advantage that it had been campaigning well before Chavez died. Capriles, the Venezuelan (and international) private media, opposition groups like Javu, began trying to delegitimise the government, trying to create distrust of it- accusing it of lying about Chavez’s health and so on, since he became sick again at the end of last year. We can see the accumulated affects of that campaign now, as opposition supporters actually believe that fraud was committed in yesterday’s elections, despite them achieving their largest vote ever.

Once the elections were called and Capriles registered as a candidate, he went on the offensive. After initially screwing up and insenstiveily doubting the timing of Chavez’s death, he then ignored Chavez altogether (a good tactical decision for him) and attacked Maduro and the government again and again.

While he insulted and lied about every aspect and person in the government he could, at the same time his advisers seem to have given him acting classes, as he began to impersonate Chavez in every which way. In his speeches, he talked liked Chavez, he told anecdotes like Chavez, he tried to sound sincere, as Chavez had been, and he promised to do the same things the revolution was already doing, such as build 200,000 houses a year, and increase the minimum wage.

Capriles attacked the Supreme Court, then when elections began, the CNE too, as though they are one and the same thing as the government. He was aggressive about it, and promoted the idea that “we shouldn’t accept this anymore”. At the same time, he blamed the food shortages on the government, and I guess those who voted for him didn’t wander why most of the food shortages began during the election campaign.

All of this was massively backed up by private media (online, television, newspapers) here and overseas, which not only added to Capriles’ legitimacy, but gave his supporters confidence.

Right-wing campaign continues accompanied with violence
“They’re [the CNE and the government] burning the electoral boxes, the ones with our votes it in,” one opposition student told me today as they protested outside the CNE.
“The government will fall, the government has fallen, we’re not scared,” they chanted, as they walked around with their rocks and glass bottles in their hands, eager to have someone react so they could throw them somewhere. But the police were few today, and peaceful, and the Chavistas near the protest reacted a few times but largely were disciplined and held back.

It’s ironic that the extremely high turnout at the voting centres yesterday illustrates Venezuelans’ deep political interest and also their trust in their electoral system, yet half of those Venezuelans believe Capriles when he suggests that the CNE is biased or rigs the votes.

Capriles waged a dirty campaign, but for his aims, it was well done. I remember one night a few days ago overhearing someone talking to their girlfriend. “Don’t worry, from Sunday things will be different,” he assured her. That time, it felt like the opposition’s delusional belief election after election that finally they’ll win, had changed. It had become a committed confidence, it had become a cause.

The revolution goes on
Although we technically won last night, even Maduro has recognised that we also lost. Among other things, we wanted to send a message to the world that this revolution goes on, yet the results show some doubt. However, it is more complicated than that. We should recognise the problems and challenges, but also feel some comfort that this time, 7 million people largely voted for the revolution of the poor to continue. And they did that, despite most media being against us, despite the distortions and lies, despite the minor, but real, economic hardships, despite 14 years of marching and voting again and again, despite the bureaucracy in the government. As one comrade of mine said, “Chavez got us used to victories that were marvelously planned and masterfully lead by him. This time it was up to us to do it alone, and we won”. We can only learn from here.


Henrique Capriles Vows To Rid Venezuela of Cuban Doctors

Venezuelan Election and Cuba – The Links that Bind
Mike Carr, Wednesday April 10th, 2013.

Huge stakes in Venezuelan election
Huge stakesare involved in the looming Venezuelan election this Sunday, April 14th. For Venezuelans, it’s a crossroads for the Bolivarian Revolution inspired by deceased leader Hugo Chavez. If the Chavistas win, the continuation of their developing model of a democratic socialism for the 21st century is assured for at least another six years. However, the opposition party Primero Justicia, a coalition of right wing groups, may very well attempt to throw chaos into the revolutionary plans of the United Venezuelan Socialist Party. Their candidate for president, Henrique Capriles, claims his program is modeled on Brazil’s social democratic politics. However, Primero Justicia, and Capriles in particular, supported the right wing military coup in April of 2002 against the democratically elected President Chavez. Moreover many Venezuelans fear the loss of the many social “missions” launched by the Chavistas – health, housing, education, culture, sports and more– subsidized by government control of oil production and profits - if Capriles wins. Capriles has promised to keep the social missions, but because of his anti-democratic past many do not trust him. And today, Capriles failed to commit to recognizing the election results.

Cubans also have a big stake in the election outcome
Most importantly, Capriles has categorically stated that, if he is elected, "Not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros." Cuba is a big issue for Venezuelans. Capriles and the old right wing oligarchy who finances him are fiercely anti-communist and anti Castro. They accuse the Cuban state of dire plans to insinuate Cuban “communism” into Venezuela. Cubans, on the contrary, have a great admiration and love for Chavez as I witnessed myself in the days of national mourning here after Chavez died on March 5th. They also very much need the Venezuelan oil. Since the beginning of the agreement between the Chavez government in Venezuela and the Cuban government of Fidel Castro 13 years ago, Cuba has depended on Venezuelan oil at discount prices in exchange for Cuban doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers to assist in the Venezuelan social missions. The deal, launched by Chavez and Castro, is an example of a new type of inter-state trade based not on market profitability, but on economic complementarity. It has lead to an end-run around the old Washington Consensus marked by harsh conditionality agreements under the World Bank and the IMF. It is anathema to market friendly politicians such as Capriles. Under the new arrangement, Cuba gets 100,000 barrels of oil per day. This amounts to an estimated six billion dollars over the life of the current agreement. The Venezuelan oil was a much appreciated life-line for Cubans whose former oil supplies came to an abrupt halt with the collapse of the former Soviet union in 1989.

Poor benefit from free medical care
Cuban doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers are a very controversial issue in Venezuela, according to right wing Primero Justicia supporters. They have been accused of spreading Cuban communist ideology in Venezuela. However, the many poor in the barrios of Venezuela benefit from free medical care given by the Cuban doctors who are also training Venezuelan doctors as well. It is here where Chavez has his biggest support. Capriles has promised to send the doctors back to Cuba.

Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) or return to neo-liberalism
Beyond the oil for doctors issue, there was a deep friendship and comradeship between Fidel and Chavez. Chavez has looked to Fidel as a mentor. Together they launched ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas in 2004. ALBA now has ten member nations. The oil for doctors deal was arranged under ALBA. Although ALBA is a state to state organization, it encourages and supports peoples participation in its planning and administrative operations. Social movements contribute to forming ALBA’s goals. Given the rabid hatred of anything Cuban by Venezuela’s right wing oligarchy, ALBA too would be threatened under a Capriles government. Cuba would loose a very valuable ally. Venezuelan Chavistas and others around all of Latin American now regard Cuba as a beacon, an inspirational leader in the struggle to free Latin America from the yoke of U.S. imperialism. Cuba stood alone against the US giant and the many Latin American military dictatorships in the 70s and 80s that cow-towed to US policy. On the other hand, Venezuela is now seen by many Cubans not only as an ally, but also as hope for the future, a new model of a democratic Bolivarian socialism. A Capriles victory would represent a return to the horrible past under neo-liberal Washington Consensus politics and economic oppression.

Community of States of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC)cooperation in question
CELAC, the Community of States of Latin America and the Caribbean, would also be threatened by a return to the party of the Venezuelan oligarchy under Capriles. Cuba is now the chair of CELAC. Cuba was chosen as the first chair to honor the fact that it did stand alone against neo-liberalism and US imperialism for over 50 years. CELAC is composed of all states in the hemisphere minus the US and Canada. It represents a regional effort of Latin Americans for an independent cooperative approach to common problems in spite of political differences, a forum for dialogue and solidarity. A return to the party of the old oligarchy who supports Capriles with finances and media campaigns (they still control the majority of the Venezuelan media in a free Venezuela).

Another threat to Venezuela: Luis Posada Carriles,well known terrorist How likely is a Capriles win? Well, according to nearly all polls, not very likely. Nicolas Maduras, the former vice-president under Chavez and Chavez’ pick to follow him if he died is an excellent bet. He holds a commanding 17 point lead over Capriles. Maduras himself is a strong candidate. A former bus driver and trade union leader he is a powerful speaker. However, the right wing, or at least a section of it, has plans to destabilize the country during the elections. These plans have been exposed by the Chavista forces. They include fomenting crime and murder, attacks on the electrical supply system and subway stations, and the assassination of Maduras. These group(A& B) believe they can create an atmosphere of violence and chaos around the elections. In short, they are terrorists. One of them, David Koch Arana, is a retired colonel from the Salvadoran Army. He has links to Luis Posada Carriles, the well known - to Cubans – terrorist who masterminded the bombing of Cubana airliner 455 in 1976 that killed 73 passengers. He lives free in Miami under the protection of the US government after he escaped from jail in Venezuela. The US refuses to send him back to Venezuela under an extradition order of the Venezuelan government. Posada Carriles was also involved in the Bay of Pigs U.S. backed invasion against Cuba in 1961 and fought with the Contras in Nicaragua. All of this and more, combined with the fact that Capriles has refused to honor the results of the election, make for a tense few days that remain before Sundays election. Cubans, of course, are hoping for a Maduras win.

This world has to change

Nicolas Maduro's Speech at the Funeral of President Hugo Chavez
Apr 2nd 2013

Dear Mrs. Elena [Frias de Chavez]; dear daughters and sons, grandchildren, teacher Hugo de los Reyes, relatives of our Commander President, father and guide, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias. Dear and respectedpresidents, prime ministers and princes. From all four corners of our planet you have come to express your support and solidarity with your love and presence to our glorious people of Venezuela, to our Commander Hugo Chavez. We thank you from our heart, for having come from your lands to bring this great tribute, to bring us with your embrace and your words the encouragement that we need at this hard and tragic hour in the history of the 21st century.
Dear leaders who have come here, leaders of social and political movements from all across the world, who walk in the streets with the people…

Dear Gustavo Dudamel, maestroAbreu, who has brought our youth’s music to fill with a fresh breath the soul of this pure man whom we have here.

Comrades, both men and women, of President Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian government. Governors: we are here before him, in a way we would have never wished to be, with the greatest pain of which our humanity is capable—here we are, Commander.

Yesterday a woman gave us some words of encouragement. While she was speaking to us we felt the real magnitude of what has taken place. She said, “Be strong because his soul and his spirit were so strong that his body could not endure it anymore, and he freed himself, and his soul and his spirit are going across this universe, expanding, filling us with blessings, with love, gathering all the blessings of all the nations, of all the love that can be found in this universe to bring it to us, and we know it is this way, Commander, and that is how we feel”.
Our prayers say that it is time for forgiveness, and you taught us the most infinite love that went all the way to forgiveness, in the most difficult of circumstances. There has been no leader in the history of our homeland, more reviled, more slandered, and more despicably attacked than our Commander President. Never in 200 years were there so many lies about one man, neither here nor in the world. Although, certainly, our Bolivar was betrayed, they did not dare slander him, neither in his own days, nor after his days. But neither lies, nor hatred were able to defeat our Commander, because our Commander is here.

And why weren’t they able to defeat him? Do you know why they weren’t able to defeat him, dear heads of state who have brought your most pure love for this man, beyond ideologies and political frontiers? Because within him our Commander had the strongest shield that a human being can have, which is his purity, the love of Christ. The love of a true son of Christ saved him from slanderous allegations, infamy, and here he is undefeated, pure, transparent, unique, truthful, and alive forever, for all times, for this one and all future times—Commander, they were not able to defeat you, they won’t ever be able to defeat us, they never will—Attendees: Long live Chavez! The struggle goes on, long live Chavez! The struggle goes on, long live Chavez! The struggle goes on, long live Chavez!

In life we were loyal to him, all of us, all of us, all the great men of this Venezuelan land, and we learned [loyalty] because he taught it to us, we didn’t know it. Many of us, almost from childhood, joined the revolutionary ranks, and we were traveling different paths, some military paths, such as the generation of sons—I ask you to stand up, all of you of the generation of military sons—here are your sons Commander, here are your National Bolivarian Armed Forces, made a people, made spirit, made flesh, with their firearms, with their sword…An army of peace, that is what our Armed Forces are, an army of men and women [who are] liberators.

We were traveling along our paths since we were very young, 11, 12 years old, some starting at our homes, the homes of our fathers, of our mothers. But while traveling on the path [that leads to] the redemption of our homeland, we had never known our own history. If one wants to correctly put together the legacy Hugo Chavez leaves behind, the first thing that must be done is to recognize that he led us to rediscover the history of our homeland; he raised the flags of the liberator Simon Bolivar. He embodied them, he embodied them. And he taught us love and forgiveness. He also taught us to love our history. That is why we say from our heart today—I ask permission from his daughters, his mother—Commander, here you are undefeated. In your name and with the love of Christ, we forgive those who slandered you; you [Commander] are free from all the faults they tried to impute to you.

And in that history, all of our leaders, beginning with the greatest of all, Simón Bolívar, were not allowed to enter the united provinces of Venezuela. The Grand Marshall of Ayacucho was threatened with execution were he to step on the land of the already separated provinces of Gran Colombia, the first Colombia, our Colombia, which is beating with desires to be born, of being once again re-founded.

All died, expelled from our land by those who ruled and betrayed us. Some betrayed Bolivar and he died there in the Gran Colombia, in Santa Marta—the same place where on a certain occasion our Commander went to sit down with president Juan Manuel Santos, to shake his hand and say, “Let us work together.” And so it happened, President Santos, we thank you.

The cadaver of the Grand Marshall of Ayacucho was left lying on the ground and the wretched of the earth picked up his body and they looked after it until they were able to take it to Quito. It spent 70 years hidden, lost. It wasn’t until that great Bolivarian general Eloy Alfaro came [onto the scene] in 1900 to vindicate him, bringing him out of his ostracized status and taking him where he was supposed to be, in the cathedral of Quito, there with our brothers, with president Rafael Correa, with the Bolivarian people of Ecuador.

Why did the final hour of our great founders have to be this way? Why did the final hour of those who walked barefooted from here, from the Caribbean to Potosí, to procure our freedom have to be this way? How do we explain so many betrayals, some much envy, so much selfishness? How do we explain so much evil? The reason is the vested interests that ultimately prevailed, those interests that were not the supreme interests of the newborn homeland; interests that were not the supreme interests of the peoples. Those were times of confusion, and the great Bolivar and the great Sucre did not have enough strength to bring together the land and the people that they had liberated.

Ezequiel Zamora was another great person we had here, general of the sovereign nation, a redeemer who took upon himself the task of raising Bolivar’s betrayed flags, and also died of one bullet wound January 10th of 1860, as he was coming to Caracas with his victorious troops of toothless paupers. Our master and teacher taught us this.
And [we also had] Cipriano Castro 100 years ago. Petroleum had already been discovered in our Venezuela. Cipriano Castro was a nationalist. He fell sick and departed [from Venezuela] in 1908. His ship had barely set sail when the betrayal of the acting vice president prevailed. Venezuela went through 20 years of the worst dictatorship we have ever known in the 20th century, and they came for our petroleum and they plundered it. Venezuela was the first producer of petroleum in the world in the decade of the 20s, in the 20thcentury. They plundered our country.

And so, Commander, once you related that to us, speaking in the presidential airplane, you were reading this story to Commander Fidel Castro, Commander in Chief of the liberating nations of our Latin America and the Caribbean. He told us that after listening attentively and in silence, Commander Fidel Castro answered, “Hugo, that’s a very sad story. I didn’t know it, but be certain that neither you nor I will die that way: when we have to go, we’ll leave with our victorious nations standing up, with the blessing and love of the women and men who are just”.

Fidel’s prediction was fulfilled, here you are Commander: with your men standing up, all your men and women, loyal as we sworn before you, loyal even beyond death, and you, President-Elect of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces, here in your homeland, under your command, under your unique command.

We have broken the curse of treason against the homeland and we will break the curse of defeat and regression. We have broken that curse. Here is the unsheathed sword and your eyes looking towards Christ.

In previous days, hours before the announcements of December 8th, a group of comrades visited him in Havana: Diosdado, comrade and brother in these battles, but above all of the battles to come—Diosdado Cabello Rondón, a revolutionary, also a man with a pure soul, son of our Commander Hugo Chavez—comrades Rafael, Elias, Cilia, were accompanying him. As always Rosa, María, Rosinés, Hugo, Adán, all of his siblings, comrade Jorge Arreaza, life-partner of our beloved Rosa Virgina, whom our commander adopted as his own son.

And one difficult day, in the early hours of the morning I had to go there, to his bedroom. We were there together Jorge and I. Jorge always writing everything in his notebook. And there the Commander asked us to help him with a task, he said to us: “I believe I have to write some final words as a testament” and as always he gave us an order, Hugo Chavez’s testament. “Help me with an outline, some ideas, so that I can sit down to write them down during these hours.”

We did not fulfill that order, we weren’t able to, it was impossible. He had already fulfilled that order because our Commander’s entire life has been a testament: his word, his passion, his action, his work! His people, the people of Venezuela are his testament, the humble of the world, the poor, the hopeless, the oppressed of all times and all hours, we the grandchildren of the slaves! We are his living testament! He left his testament signed and sealed by the people. The first one of them is here.

If anyone wants to know who Hugo Chavez truly was, and wants to tear down the veil of lies, the mean lies of the media, [and] the worldwide psychological warfare against this man, get to know this letter written by him…his constitution approved by the people, discussed by the people. And get to know his word and his action. Everything we are today is here. Here is our guide. If anyone has any doubt, about anything, any time, here is the supreme word of the homeland, the letter of peace, everyone’s letter.

When this constitution was discussed, we came out into the streets to debate it and a referendum was called for. Some Venezuelans came out to vote in favor of the “No”, so as not to approve it. Life has its ways, for Chavez said to us that year in 1999—we were constituents—he said: “Patience: what is just is just and this letter will come to be recognized by all sooner rather than later.”—Today, we can say Commander, this is the letter of all, women and men, even those who opposed it today have made it their own. All are welcomed, Venezuela is for all us and belongs to all us, and this letter is our guide for unity, for peace, for coexistence. It is a letter for making revolution, democratic revolution.

And if one wants to take a closer look: what was the dream of our undefeated Commander?—as the general of armies, Raul Castro said yesterday in his words from Santiago, Cuba: “Undefeated”—if one desires to know, what did he think that 21st century Venezuela would be?—Jorge, comrade, he himself wrote his testament June of the year 2012, with his own hand and fist. Elias Jaua who was executive vice president knows this, he was directly involved in the testament.

Here Commander Chavez left us five historic tasks.
They are five historic tasks of a thought which is part of a system of values, of principles, inspired in Bolivar our founding father; inspired in the liberators; inspired in the wisdom of our indigenous peoples, of our great Guaicaipuro; inspired in Christ.

If someone were to ask, what does a man or woman look like, what is a human being like when one undertakes becoming a true child of Christ our redeemer, and one devotes oneself, giving away one’s entire life, body and spirit for a people, for the oppressed, for the poor? [If someone were to ask this] one would have to recognize that Hugo Chavez was an authentic Christian of the streets. A Christian, a redeemer in Christ! A protector in Christ, of the poor of this earth and of the lands of the world!

And so he left us five historic tasks. They are absolutely unified. They are democratic tasks, because after a democratic debate in this Homeland of men and women who are conscious and free, our people approved our Commander’s testament. He never lied in politics, or in anything. When he discovered in his own path that under capitalism, not to mention neoliberal capitalism, it was impossible to stabilize society, to give equality and happiness to the nations, and that it was impossible stably to sustain true democracies, he said one day in December of 2004, he said to us:

I will raise the flags of our American, Indigenous, Bolivarian and Christian socialism. We will dare build humanity’s dream with audacity, and will do this in democracy and in socialism…. And here he leaves a system of principles, values. They are five.

The first one of them:
To maintain and consolidate the independence we have already conquered during these 14 years of democratic, popular, and Bolivarian revolution.

The second:
To build our own socialism: diverse, democratic, ours, American.

The third one of them:
To build Venezuela as a powerful nation in the context of the great powerful Latin America—which will be built in these years to come, and which we have seen here standing up, represented by the diversity of presidents, men and women that have come. We have to be a great power.

It was right here—dear presidents, men and women—right here in this patio where Chavez the cadet received his formation. Who would have known that 30, 40 years later that cadet would be presiding here the foundation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States? [A community] which the president of Chile Sebastian Piñera has presided with dignity, to whom we extend our thanks for all of his generosity and all of his respectful and affectionate gestures towards president Hugo Chavez! And [a community] which today is presided by the General of Armies Raúl Castro Ruz and the Cuba of dignity, heading this organization.

And the fourth objective:
To build a balanced world—Bolivar: the balance of the universe—[to build a world] without empires.

There are some representatives here that we want greet and show appreciation for. We have Jesse Jackson, but also former Congressman William Delahunt and Congressman Gregory Meeks whom we greet. They have been sent by president Obama, we welcome you. We care for all and love all of the nations of our America, but we want relations marked by respect, cooperation, and true peace. We want, just as Commander Chavez wrote, “a world without empires”, without hegemonic nations, a world of peace, a world in which international law is respected, a world of nations capable of coming together to cooperate, to live, to be just, in terms of equality. And why can’t this be possible when all the will of one world is here, all of the strength of one world? And Latin America has the historic task of creating that new world, of unifying ourselves in our diversity and saying to the world: here is the Latin America of liberators; here we are standing up, together, [saying]: this world has to change.

And a fifth objective which I will read, because without this the very existence of the human species will be impossible. At the end of the day this fifth objective is the one that brings together each of the points in this testament which Commander Hugo Chavez left us. The fifth objective is very simple, and we say it with great humility, but with the greatest anguish for humanity. Commander Hugo Chavez says in his fifth historic objective:
To contribute to the preservation of life in the planet and to the salvation of the human species.

Neither capitalism nor socialism nor any of our religions will exist if we are unable, from where we are, each of us with our own political and religious ideologies, to save this planet, putting an end to nuclear bombs, eliminating all those powers of destruction, of contamination of rivers, of seas, of global warming. Here it is, Commander, your testament.

A number of years ago, some times during pressing moments, sometimes when we made mistakes, the Commander President would always say to us, "Nicolás, Elías, Rafael, Yadira, Jorge, what will you all do when I die?”
We always said to him, “Please, Commander, don’t say that.”

“What will you all do when I die? How will you all manage?”

He left everything arranged; now it is up to us whether we do it or not. We call our nation to do it.

What will we do when you die Commander? You can go in peace, our prayers and our love in Christ, and from our heart we wish you the greatest peace possible in that new realm of life. What will we do? We will continue, we’ll go on together, the people, the Armed Forces, your constitution, with your political testament, with your example and with our love. We’ll continue protecting the poor, we’ll continue giving food to those who need it, we’ll continue building the education of our children, we’ll continue building the Grand Homeland, we’ll continue building peace, peace, peace for our continent, the peace of our people—So Commander, mission accomplished, Commander President!

The battle goes on. Chavez lives!—Attendees: the battle goes on!—Long live Hugo Chavez!—Attendees: Que viva!—Long live our people!—Attendees: Que viva!—Long live love and unity!—Attendees: Que viva!—Onward to victory Commander!—Attendees: Chávez lives, the battle goes on! Chávez lives, the battle goes on! Chávez lives, the battle goes on!

U.S. Aims To Destabilize Boliviarian Government

New WikiLeaks cable reveals US embassy strategy to destabilize Chavez government
April 04, 2013

In a secret US cable published online by WikiLeaks, former ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, outlines a comprehensive plan to infiltrate and destabilize former President Hugo Chavez' government.

Dispatched in November of 2006 by Brownfield -- now an Assistant Secretary of State -- the document outlined his embassy’s five core objectives in Venezuela since 2004, which included: “penetrating Chavez’ political base,” “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital US business” and “isolating Chavez internationally.”

The memo, which appears to be totally un-redacted, is plain in its language of involvement in these core objectives by the US embassy, as well as the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), two of the most prestigious agencies working abroad on behalf of the US.

According to Brownfield, who prepared the cable specifically for US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the “majority” of both USAID and OTI activities in Venezuela were concerned with assisting the embassy in accomplishing its core objectives of infiltrating and subduing Chavez’ political party:

“This strategic objective represents the majority of USAID/OTI work in Venezuela. Organized civil society is an increasingly important pillar of democracy, one where President Chavez has not yet been able to assert full control.”

In total, USAID spent some one million dollars in organizing 3,000 forums that sought to essentially reconcile Chavez supporters and the political opposition, in the hopes of slowly weaning them away from the Bolivarian side.

Brownfield at one point boasted of an OTI civic education program named “Democracy Among Us,” which sought to work through NGOs in low income regions, and had allegedly reached over 600,000 Venezuelans.

In total, between 2004 and 2006, USAID donated some 15 million dollars to over 300 organizations, and offered technical support via OTI in achieving US objectives which it categorized as seeking to reinforce democratic institutions.

Much of the memo details efforts to highlight instances of human rights violations, and sponsoring activists and members of the political opposition to attend meetings abroad and voice their concerns against the Chavez administration:

“So far, OTI has sent Venezuelan NGO leaders to Turkey, Scotland, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Chile, Uruguay, Washington and Argentina (twice) to talk about the law. Upcoming visits are planned to Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.”

In his closing comments, Brownfield remarked that, should President Chavez win re-election during the December 2006 elections, OTI expected the “atmosphere for our work in Venezuela” to become more complicated.

Ultimately, it seems that the former ambassador’s memo wisely predicted a change in conditions. Following his re-election, President Chavez threatened to eject the US ambassador from Venezuela in 2007, amid accusations of interfering in internal state affairs.

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's Hope

Nicolas Maduro – The Bus Driver
by Luis Hernández Navarro – La Jornada

Nicolas Maduro drove a bus to the National Electoral Council to register his candidacy for president.

Nicolas Maduro is a robust, burly man, 1.9 meters tall with a thick black moustache. He drove a metro bus in Caracas for seven years, was foreign minister for six more and is now interim president and candidate for the country’s top office. He is part of the a generation of Latin American leaders like metal worker Lula da Silva and coco-leaf unionist Evo Morales, that entered politics from the trenches of opposition social struggles [translator: in opposition to the neoliberal administrations which governed Latin America before the continent’s ‘pink tide’, which began in the late 1990’s].

Maduro is a socialist revolutionary who modified his original orthodox position to join the heterodox hurricane of the Bolivarian revolution. He’s a man of the left who arrived to power without abandoning his principles. He is a self-made man, a loyal ally of Hugo Chavez and today is at the wheel of one of the deepest processes of transformation in Latin America.

Politics is in his blood, and he breathed it from his earliest days. Maduro was born in Caracas in 1962, into the heart of a family very committed to collective public action. His father was a founder of the party Democratic Action (AD) [founded in 1941] and organiser of the failed oil strike against the dictatorship in 1952, which forced him to flee and go into hiding.

In 1967 Maduro went with his parents to the rallies of the People’s Electoral Movement, a left split-off from AD, and a year later he attended the massive grassroots acts of support for the (presidential) candidacy of Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa. In this campaign Maduro became acquainted with the world of poverty [and] cardboard shacks. He also spoke in public for the first time, when his father put him on top of a car with a microphone.

Aside from parental influence, from a young age Maduro had his own political opinions. In 4th grade of primary school he defended the Cuban revolution against the criticisms of the monks who taught him. He was excluded from the classroom for three days and condemned to serve out his punishment in the library, which in reality was a reward for a restless boy who devoured any book he had before him.

Far from curing himself with the passing of time, his early interest in politics increased. When he was twelve years old and a high school student, he began to participate, unbeknown to his parents, in the Rupture movement, an open structure of the revolutionary project of Douglas Bravo. Youthful effervescence was the symbol of the times. From then he participated without interruption in community struggles, the organisation of cinema clubs, in union movements and armed grassroots conspiracies.

As a bassist in the rock group Enigma, he saw how many youths of his generation in the barrios became hooked into the world of easy money and drug culture, then becoming addicted and assassinated in gang wars. The experience marked him for life.

Nicolas Maduro, the same as Hugo Chavez, is a great baseball player – third base. However, unlike the comandante, who was a terrible dancer, he manages reasonably well when it’s time to dance salsa.

Participation in popular movements was his university. As with many other activists of his generation, his intellectual formation is directly associated with his involvement in the mass and revolutionary struggle. He studied the classics of Marxism and analysed and interpreted Venezuelan reality in light of their teachings. Gifted with an extraordinary capacity for learning, he has simultaneously been self-didactic and a leader instructed by years of organised political participation. Until the [electoral] triumph of Chavismo he regularly suffered police persecution, and lived, literally, one jump from death.

He participated in the Organisation of Revolutionaries, and in its open expression, the Socialist League: a Marxist revolutionary grouping born from a break with the Revolutionary Left Movement. Its founder, Jorge Rodriguez, was assassinated by the intelligence services in 1976. There, Maduro stood out as a brilliant organiser and political agitator of the masses.

In 1991 he began to work with the Caracas Metro. Outgoing, affable, charismatic, and committed to workers’ interests, he was elected by his co-workers as union representative. His vocation for democratic and class trade unionism meant that he was frequently sanctioned by the company. Following the 1989 Caracazo [translator: riots against a neoliberal structural adjustment package which were suppressed by state force and mass killing of civilians], he conserves the memory of the heart-rending sound of the permanent cries of the poor in the street, whose kin were murdered.

Maduro met Hugo Chavez like the majority of Venezuelans did: he saw him on television when Chavez assumed responsibility for the military rebellion of 1992. Over a year later, 16 February 1993, he met Chavez personally in jail, along with a group of workers. The lieutenant colonel gave Maduro the clandestine name of Verde and gave him the responsibility of various conspiratorial tasks. When Chavez was freed in 1994, Maduro dedicated himself to the movement’s organisation full time. Today's interim president was part of the Constituent National Assembly that drafted the new constitution in 1999. A year later he was elected deputy to the National Assembly. In January 2006 he was named Assembly President and a few months later resigned to become foreign minister. In this post he was a central actor in the effort to construct a multi-polar world, spearheading Latin American integration and build peace. From there he went on to become vice president, and a few days ago, interim president.

Maduro is married to the lawyer Cilia Flores; who is nine years older than him. She is an important figure in Chavismo, and has been, due to her own merits, president of the National Assembly, vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and Attorney General of the republic. They have one son, the flutist Nicolas Ernesto, and a grandson.

Chosen by Hugo Chavez as his political heir, on 14 April Nicolas Maduro will face the test of the ballot box. Emerging victorious, he will have the challenge of being the new ‘driver’ of the Bolivarian revolution; of solving problems such as insecurity and corruption, and continuing the comandante’s legacy: radicalising, and at the same time innovating it.

Translated by Ewan Robertson for Venezuelanalysis.com's

Hugo Chavez: Most humane and multi-faceted leader of our epoch

President Chavez: A 21st Century Renaissance Man
By James Petras

President Hugo Chavez was unique in multiple areas of political, social and economic life. He made significant contributions to the advancement of humanity. The depth, scope and popularity of his accomplishments mark President Chavez as the ‘Renaissance President of the 21st Century’.

Many writers have noted one or another of his historic contributions highlighting his anti-poverty legislation, his success in winning popular elections with resounding majorities and his promotion of universal free public education and health coverage for all Venezuelans.

In this essay we will highlight the unique world-historic contributions that President Chavez made in the spheres of political economy, ethics and international law and in redefining relations between political leaders and citizens. We shall start with his enduring contribution to the development of civic culture in Venezuela and beyond.

Hugo Chavez: The Great Teacher of Civic Values
From his first days in office, Chavez was engaged in transforming the constitutional order so that political leaders and institutions would be more responsive to the popular electorate. Through his speeches Chavez clearly and carefully informed the electorate of the measures and legislation to improve their livelihood. He invited comments and criticism – his style was to engage in constant dialogue, especially with the poor, the unemployed and the workers. Chavez was so successful in teaching civic responsibilities to the Venezuelan electorate that millions of citizens from the slums of Caracas rose up spontaneously to oust the US backed business-military junta which had kidnapped their president and closed the legislature. Within seventy-two hours – record time – the civic-minded citizens restored the democratic order and the rule of law in Venezuela, thoroughly rejecting the mass media’s defense of the coup-plotters and their brief authoritarian regime.

Chavez, as all great educators, learned from this democratic intervention of the mass of citizens, that democracy’s most effective defenders were to be found among the working people – and that its worst enemies were found in the business elites and military officials linked to Miami and Washington.

Chavez civic pedagogy emphasized the importance of the historical teachings and examples of founding fathers, like Simon Bolivar, in establishing a national and Latin American identity. His speeches raised the cultural level of millions of Venezuelans who had been raised in the alienating and servile culture of imperial Washington and the consumerist obsessions of Miami shopping malls.

Chavez succeeded in instilling a culture of solidarity and mutual support among the exploited, emphasizing ‘horizontal’ ties over vertical clientelistic dependency on the rich and powerful. His success in creating collective consciousness decisively shifted the balance of political power away from the wealthy rulers and corrupt political party and trade union leaders toward new socialist movements and class oriented trade unions. More than anything else Chavez’ political education of the popular majority regarding their social rights to free health care and higher education, living wages and full employment drew the hysterical ire of the wealthy Venezuelans and their undying hatred of a president who had created a sense of autonomy, dignity and ‘class empowerment’ through public education ending centuries of elite privilege and omnipotence.

Above all Chavez speeches, drawing as much from Bolivar as from Karl Marx, created a deep, generous sense of patriotism and nationalism and a profound rejection of a prostrate elite groveling before their Washington overlord, Wall Street bankers and oil company executives. Chavez’ anti-imperial speeches resonated because he spoke in the language of the people and expanded their national consciousness to identification with Latin America, especially Cuba’s fight against imperial interventions and wars.

International Relations: The Chavez Doctrine
At the beginning of the previous decade, after 9/11/01, Washington declared a ‘War on Terror.’ This was a public declaration of unilateral military intervention and wars against sovereign nations, movements and individuals deemed as adversaries, in violation of international law.

Almost all countries submitted to this flagrant violation of the Geneva Accords, except President Chavez, who made the most profound and simple refutation against Washington: ‘You don’t fight terrorism with state terrorism’. In his defense of the sovereignty of nations and international jurisprudence, Chavez underlined the importance of political and economic solutions to social problems and conflicts – repudiating the use of bombs, torture and mayhem. The Chavez Doctrine emphasized south-south trade and investments and diplomatic over military resolution of disputes. He upheld the Geneva Accords against colonial and imperial aggression while rejecting the imperial doctrine of ‘the war on terror’, defining western state terrorism as a pernicious equivalent to Al Qaeda terrorism.

Political Theory and Practice: The Grand Synthesizer
One of the most profound and influential aspects of Chavez’ legacy is his original synthesis of three grand strands of political thought: popular Christianity, Bolivarian nationalist and regional integration and Marxist political, social and economic thought. Chavez’ Christianity informed his deep belief in justice and the equality of people, as well as his generosity and forgiveness of adversaries even as they engaged in a violent coup, a crippling lockout, or openly collaborated and received financing from enemy intelligence agencies. Whereas anywhere else in the world, armed assaults against the state and coup d’états would result in long prison sentences or even executions, under Chavez most of his violent adversaries escaped prosecution and even rejoined their subversive organizations. Chavez demonstrated a deep belief in redemption and forgiveness. Chavez’s Christianity informed his ‘option for the poor’, the depth and breadth of his commitment to eradicating poverty and his solidarity with the poor against the rich.

Chavez deep-seated aversion and effective opposition to US and European imperialism and brutal Israeli colonialism were profoundly rooted in his reading of the writings and history of Simon Bolivar, the founding father of the Venezuelan nation. Bolivarian ideas on national liberation long preceded any exposure to Marx, Lenin or more contemporary leftist writings on imperialism. His powerful and unwavering support for regional integration and internationalism was deeply influenced by Simon Bolivar’s proposed ‘United States of Latin America’ and his internationalist activity in support of anti-colonial movements.

Chavez’ incorporation of Marxist ideas into his world view was adapted to his longstanding popular Christian and Bolivarian internationalist philosophy. Chavez’ option for the poor was deepened by his recognition of the centrality of the class struggle and the reconstruction of the Bolivarian nation through the socialization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. The socialist concept of self-managed factories and popular empowerment via community councils was given moral legitimacy by Chavez’ Christian faith in an egalitarian moral order.

While Chavez was respectful and carefully listened to the views of visiting leftist academics and frequently praised their writings, many failed to recognize or, worse, deliberately ignored the President’s own more original synthesis of history, religion and Marxism. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case, some leftist academics have, in their self-indulgent posturing, presumed to be Chavez’ ‘teacher’ and advisor on all matters of ‘Marxist theory’: This represents a style of leftist cultural colonialism, which snidely criticized Chavez for not following their ready-made prescriptions, published in their political literary journals in London, New York and Paris.

Fortunately, Chavez took what was useful from the overseas academics and NGO-funded political strategists while discarding ideas that failed to take account of the cultural-historical, class and rentier specificities of Venezuela.

Chavez has bequeathed to the intellectuals and activists of the world a method of thinking which is global and specific, historical and theoretical, material and ethical and which encompasses class analysis, democracy and a spiritual transcendence resonating with the great mass of humanity in a language every person can understand. Chavez’ philosophy and practice (more than any ‘discourse’ narrated by the social forum-hopping experts) demonstrated that the art of formulating complex ideas in simple language can move millions of people to ‘make history, and not only to study it’.

Toward Practical Alternatives to Neoliberalism and Imperialism

Perhaps Chavez greatest contribution in the contemporary period was to demonstrate, through practical measures and political initiatives, that many of the most challenging contemporary political and economic problems can be successfully resolved.

Radical Reform of a Rentier State

Nothing is more difficult than changing the social structure, institutions and attitudes of a rentier petro-state, with deeply entrenched clientelistic politics, endemic party-state corruption and a deeply-rooted mass psychology based on consumerism. Yet Chavez largely succeeded where other petro-regimes failed. The Chavez Administration first began with constitutional and institutional changes to create a new political framework; then he implemented social impact programs, which deepened political commitments among an active majority, which, in turn, bravely defended the regime from a violent US backed business-military coup d’état. Mass mobilization and popular support, in turn, radicalized the Chavez government and made way for a deeper socialization of the economy and the implementation of radical agrarian reform. The petrol industry was socialized; royalty and tax payments were raised to provide funds for massively expanded social expenditures benefiting the majority of Venezuelans.

Almost every day Chavez prepared clearly understandable educational speeches on social, ethical and political topics related to his regime’s redistributive policies by emphasizing social solidarity over individualistic acquisitive consumerism. Mass organizations and community and trade union movements flourished – a new social consciousness emerged ready and willing to advance social change and confront the wealthy and powerful.

Chavez’ defeat of the US-backed coup and bosses’ lockout and his affirmation of the Bolivarian tradition and sovereign identity of Venezuela created a powerful nationalist consciousness which eroded the rentier mentality and strengthened the pursuit of a diversified ‘balanced economy’. This new political will and national productive consciousness was a great leap forward, even as the main features of a rentier-oil dependent economy persist. This extremely difficult transition has begun and is an ongoing process. Overseas leftist theorists, who criticize Venezuela (‘corruption’, ‘bureaucracy’) have profoundly ignored the enormous difficulties of transitioning from a rentier state to a socialized economy and the enormous progress achieved by Chavez.

Economic Crisis Without Capitalist Austerity
Throughout the crisis-wracked capitalist world, ruling labor, social democratic, liberal and conservative regimes have imposed regressive ‘austerity programs’ involving brutal reductions of social welfare, health and education expenditures and mass layoffs of workers and employees while handing our generous state subsidies and bailouts to failing banks and capitalist enterprises. Chanting their Thacherite slogan, ‘there is no alternative’, capitalist economists justify imposing the burden of ‘capitalist recovery’ onto the working class while allowing capital to recover its profits in order to invest.

Chavez’ policy was the direct opposite: In the midst of crisis, he retained all the social programs, rejected mass firings and increased social spending. The Venezuelan economy rode out of the worldwide crisis and recovered with a healthy 5.8% growth rate in 2012. In other words, Chavez demonstrated that mass impoverishment was a product of the specific capitalist ‘formula’ for recovery. He showed another, positive alternative approach to economic crisis, which taxed the rich, promoted public investments and maintained social expenditures.

Social Transformation in a ‘Globalized Economy’
Many commentators, left, right and center, have argued that the advent of a ‘globalized economy’ ruled out a radical social transformation. Yet Venezuela, which is profoundly globalized and integrated into the world market via trade and investments, has made major advances in social reform. What really matters in relation to a globalized economy is the nature of the political economic regime and its policies, which dictate how the gains and costs of international trade and investment are distributed. In a word, what is decisive is the ‘class character of the regime’ managing its place in the world economy. Chavez certainly did not ‘de-link’ from the world economy; rather he has re-linked Venezuela in a new way. He shifted Venezuelan trade and investment toward Latin America, Asia and the Middle East — especially to countries which do not intervene or impose reactionary conditions on economic transactions.

Anti-Imperialism in a Time of an Imperialist Offensive

In a time of a virulent US—EU imperialist offensive involving ‘pre-emptive’ military invasions, mercenary interventions, torture, assassinations and drone warfare in Iraq, Mali, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan and brutal economic sanctions and sabotage against Iran; Israeli colonial expulsions of thousands of Palestinians financed by the US; US-backed military coups in Honduras and Paraguay and aborted revolutions via puppets in Egypt and Tunisia, President Chavez, alone, stood as the principled defender of anti-imperialist politics. Chavez deep commitment to anti-imperialism stands in marked contrast to the capitulation of Western self-styled ‘Marxist’ intellectuals who mouthed crude justifications for their support of NATO bombing Yugoslavia and Libya, the French invasion of Mali and the Saudi-French (‘Monarcho-Socialist’) funding and arming of Islamist mercenaries against Syria. These same London, New York and Paris-based ‘intellectuals’ who patronized Chavez as a mere ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ and claimed he should have listened to their lectures and read their books, had crassly capitulated under the pressure of the capitalist state and mass media into supporting ‘humanitarian interventions’ (aka NATO bombing)… and justified their opportunism in the language of obscure leftists sects.

Chavez confronted NATO pressures and threats, as well as the destabilizing subversion of his domestic opponents and courageously articulated the most profound and significant principles of 20th and 21st Marxism: the inviolate right to self-determination of oppressed nations and unconditional opposition to imperial wars. While Chavez spoke and acted in defense of anti-imperialist principles, many in the European and US left acquiesced in imperial wars: There were virtually no mass protests, the ‘anti-war’ movements were co-opted or moribund, the British ‘Socialist’ Workers Party defended the massive NATO bombing of Libya, the French ‘Socialists’ invaded Mali- with the support of the ‘Anti-Capitalist’ Party. Meanwhile, the ‘populist’ Chavez had articulated a far more profound and principled understanding of Marxist practice, certainly than his self-appointed overseas Marxist ‘tutors’.

No other political leader or for that matter, leftist academic, developed, deepened and extended the central tenets of anti-imperialist politics in the era of global imperialist warfare with greater acuity than Hugo Chavez.

Transition from a Failed Neo-Liberal to a Dynamic Welfare State
Chavez’ programmatic and comprehensive reconfiguration of Venezuela from a disastrous and failed neo-liberal regime to a dynamic welfare state stands as a landmark in 20th and 21st century political economy. Chavez’ successful reversal of neo-liberal institutions and policies, as well as his re-nationalization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ demolished the reigning neo-liberal dogma derived from the Thatcher-Reagan era enshrined in the slogan: ‘There is no alternative’ to brutal neo-liberal policies, or TINA.

Chavez rejected privatization – he re-nationalized key oil related industries, socialized hundreds of capitalist firms and carried out a vast agrarian reform program, including land distribution to 300,000 families. He encouraged trade union organizations and worker control of factories – even bucking public managers and even his own cabinet ministers. In Latin America, Chavez led the way in defining with greater depth and with more comprehensive social changes, the post neo-liberal era. Chavez envisioned the transition from neo-liberalism to a new socialized welfare state as an international process and provided financing and political support for new regional organizations like ALBA, PetroCaribe, and UNASUR. He rejected the idea of building a welfare state in one country and formulated a theory of post-neo-liberal transitions based on international solidarity. Chavez’ original ideas and policies regarding the post-neo-liberal transition escaped the armchair Marxists and the globetrotting Social Forum NGO pundits whose inconsequential ‘global alternatives’ succeeded primarily in securing imperial foundation funding.

Chavez demonstrated through theory and practice that neo-liberalism was indeed reversible – a major political breakthrough of the 21st century.

Beyond Social Liberalism: The Radical Definition of Post-Neo-Liberalism

The US-EU promoted neo-liberal regimes have collapsed under the weight of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Massive unemployment led to popular uprisings, new elections and the advent of center-left regimes in most of Latin America, which rejected or at least claimed to repudiate ‘neo-liberalism’. Most of these regimes promulgated legislation and executive directives to fund poverty programs, implement financial controls and make productive investments, while raising minimum wages and stimulating employment. However few lucrative enterprises were actually re-nationalized. Addressing inequalities and the concentration of wealth were not part of their agenda. They formulated their strategy of working with Wall Street investors, local agro-mineral exporters and co-opted trade unions.

Chavez posed a profoundly different alternative to this form of ‘post-neoliberalism’. He nationalized resource industries, excluded Wall Street speculators and limited the role of the agro-mineral elites. He posed a socialized welfare state as an alternative to the reigning social-liberal orthodoxy of the center-left regimes, even as he worked with these regimes in promoting Latin American integration and opposing US backed coups.

Chavez was both a leader defining a more socialized alternative to social liberation and the conscience pressuring his allies to advance further.

Socialism and Democracy

Chavez opened a new and extraordinarily original and complex path to socialism based on free elections, re-educating the military to uphold democratic and constitutional principals, and the development of mass and community media. He ended the capitalist mass media monopolies and strengthened civil society as a counter-weight to US-sponsored para-military and fifth column elites intent on destabilizing the democratic state.
No other democratic-socialist president had successfully resisted imperial destabilization campaigns – neither Jagan in Guyana, Manley in Jamaica, nor Allende in Chile. From the very outset Chavez saw the importance of creating a solid legal-political framework to facilitate executive leadership, promote popular civil society organizations and end US penetration of the state apparatus (military and police). Chavez implemented radical social impact programs that ensured the loyalty and active allegiance of popular majorities and weakened the economic levers of political power long held by the capitalist class. As a result Venezuela’s political leaders, soldiers and officers loyal to its constitution and the popular masses crushed a bloody right-wing coup, a crippling bosses’ lockout and a US-financed referendum and proceeded to implement further radical socio-economic reforms in a prolonged process of cumulative socialization.

Chavez’s originality, in part the result of trial and error, was his ‘experimental method’: His profound understanding and response to popular attitudes and behavior was deeply rooted in Venezuela’s history of racial and class injustice and popular rebelliousness. More than any previous socialist leader, Chavez traveled, spoke and listened to Venezuela’s popular classes on questions of everyday life. His ‘method’ was to translate micro based knowledge into macro programed changes. In practice he was the anti-thesis of the overseas and local intellectual know-it-alls who literally spoke down to the people and who saw themselves as the ‘masters of the world’ …at least, in the micro-world of left academia, ingrown socialist conferences and self-centered monologues. The death of Hugo Chavez was profoundly mourned by millions in Venezuela and hundreds of million around the world because his transition to socialism was their path; he listened to their demands and he acted upon them effectively.

Social Democracy and National Security
Chavez was a socialist president for over 13 years in the face of large-scale, long-term violent opposition and financial sabotage from Washington, the local economic elite and mass media moguls. Chavez created the political consciousness that motivated millions of workers and secured the constitutional loyalty of the military to defeat a bloody US-backed business-military coup in 2002. Chavez tempered social changes in accordance with a realistic assessment of what the political and legal order could support. First and foremost, Chavez secured the loyalty of the military by ending US ‘advisory’ missions and overseas imperial indoctrination while substituting intensive courses on Venezuelan history, civic responsibility and the critical link between the popular classes and the military in a common national mission.

Chavez’ national security policies were based on democratic principles as well as a clear recognition of the serious threats to Venezuelan sovereignty. He successfully safeguarded both national security and the democratic rights and political freedoms of its citizens, a feat which has earned Venezuela the admiration and envy of constitutional lawyers and citizens of the US and the EU.

In stark contrast, US President Obama has assumed the power to assassinate US citizens based on secret information and without trial both in and out of the US. His Administration has murdered ‘targeted’ US citizens and their children, jailed others without trial and maintains secret ‘files’ on over 40 million Americans. Chavez never assumed those powers and never assassinated or tortured a single Venezuelan. In Venezuela, the dozen or so prisoners convicted of violent acts of subversion after open trials in Venezuelan courts, stand in sharp contrast to the tens of thousands of jailed and secretly framed Muslims and Latin American immigrants in the US. Chavez rejected state terror; while Obama has special assassination teams on the ground in over 70 countries. Obama supports arbitrary police invasions of ‘suspect’ homes and workplaces based on ‘secret evidence’ while. Chavez even tolerated the activities of known foreign (CIA)-funded opposition parties. In a word, Obama uses ‘national security’ to destroy democratic freedoms while Chavez upheld democratic freedoms and imposed constitutional limits on the national security apparatus.

Chavez sought peaceful diplomatic resolution of conflicts with hostile neighbors, such as Colombia which hosts seven US military bases – potential springboards for US intervention. On the other hand, Obama has engaged in open war with at least seven countries and has been pursuing covert hostile action against dozens of others.

Chavez’s legacy is multi-faceted. His contributions are original, theoretical and practical and universally relevant. He demonstrated in ‘theory and practice’ how a small country can defend itself against imperialism, maintain democratic principles and implement advanced social programs. His pursuit of regional integration and promotion of ethical standards in the governance of a nation – provide examples profoundly relevant in a capitalist world awash in corrupt politicians slashing living standards while enriching the plutocrats.

Chavez’ rejection of the Bush-Obama doctrine of using ‘state terror to fight terror’, his affirmation that the roots of violence are social injustice, economic pillage and political oppression and his belief that resolving these underlying issues is the road to peace, stands as the ethical-political guide for humanity’s survival.

Faced with a violent world of imperial counter-revolution, and resolved to stand with the oppressed of the world, Hugo Chavez enters world history as a complete political leader, with the stature of the most humane and multi-faceted leader of our epoch: the Renaissance figure for the 21st century.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books).