Maduro counters econmic war to destabilize Venezuela

After Chávez:The Maduro Government And The ‘Economic War’ in Venezuela

by Steve Ellner

Nearly two years after the death of Hugo Chávez, the key question that many on the left are debating, in Venezuela and elsewhere, is whether his successors have been true to his legacy, or whether the ‘revolutionary process’ initiated more than a decade ago has now stalled or even been thrown into reverse. The recent emergence of a number of pressing problems has convinced some Chavistas that the revolution has either been betrayed or, at best, that President Nicolás Maduro is severely lacking in Chávez's political acumen. High on the list of difficulties are the chronic shortages of numerous consumer goods and products, including basic ones, as well as an annual inflation rate of over 60 per cent. Both of these, Maduro claims, are part of an ‘economic war’ being waged by powerful interests to destabilize Venezuela. The government's difficulties include the universally recognized problem of corruption.

Of course, these scourges were also prevalent under Chávez, but with less intensity, and in any case he faced them head on. His response to the shortages of basic commodities – which became particularly severe in 2007, influencing the outcome of the referendum on proposed constitutional reform – was to decree widespread expropriations. In 2009 he faced the problem of corruption that led to a major financial crisis by jailing at least 16 bankers, including the brother of a trusted cabinet minister, and ordering the arrest of over 40 others who fled the country, while at the same time nationalizing 13 banks.

Radical Chavistas point out that Maduro is lacking in audacity of this type. They criticize, for instance, the decision to replace the Chavista slogan ‘Chávez Lives, the Struggle Continues!’ with ‘Chávez Lives, the Homeland Continues!’ as indicative of political retreat and a lessening of the leadership's revolutionary fervour. One Chavista radical concluded that, given this type of rhetorical modification, ‘Chávez is facing a second death.’[1] The radicals also questioned the rationale behind the proposed ‘peace dialogue’ with opposition leaders and the business sector, designed to control the violent protests that shook Venezuela in early 2014. They were convinced that underlying these conversations were concessions to the historical enemies of the Bolivarian revolution. Antonio Aponte and Toby Valderrama, an ex-guerrilla of the 1960s whom Maduro has attacked personally, wrote “It's time for self-criticism: we wanted to avoid sacrifices and so we extended our hand to the bourgeoisie, the enemies of peace... we wanted to control the capitalist monster that is uncontrollable.”[2]

How to Evaluate this Stage?

These critiques raise the question of how to evaluate a government committed to taking the gradual democratic road to far-reaching change in the context of extreme polarization and conflict. Is a period of lull in the deepening of change, including compromises with adversaries, necessarily a sign that all has been lost, as those who invoke the term ‘permanent revolution’ often argue? Certainly, history is replete with examples of governments committed to structural transformation that, after initial advances, begin to backslide and end up completely abandoning the struggle. On the other hand, Lenin's slogan of ‘one step backwards to take two steps forward’ (in reference to the New Economic Policy, 1921) may be applicable to Venezuela under Maduro, as some Chavista moderates suggest. Finally, what are the issues we should be looking at in evaluating the Maduro government's claim to have inherited Chávez's revolutionary mantle? And what are the issues that are not particularly germane to this discussion but that some on the left are raising in a misguided attempt to define the ideological orientation of the Maduro government?

What has the Maduro government done right and has it gone far enough?

One of the keys to Chávez's political success was his strategy of taking advantage of each electoral and non-electoral victory by immediately carrying out measures that deepened the process of change, initiating new stages in the transformation of the country, and weakening adversaries. Thus several electoral victories during Chávez's first two years in office set the stage for controversial anti-neoliberal legislation in November 2001, including an agrarian reform and nationalistic oil law. The defeat of the coup and general strike in 2002-2003 created conditions that made Chávez's announced commitment to combating imperialism politically feasible. Similarly his defeat of the recall election in 2004 led to Chávez's declaration of socialism as his principal goal. His re-election in 2006 with the highest percentage of votes in Venezuela's modern history paved the way for his nationalization of telecommunications, electricity, steel, cement and other strategic industries.

In 2014, Maduro broke with this radicalization strategy. In May, the government emerged victorious after three months of civil disobedience and urban violence (known as the ‘guarimba’) with the stated aim of overthrowing Maduro. In the aftermath, however, the government failed to seize the opportunity to initiate further change, and instead continued to call on the opposition to engage in dialogue in order to ensure stability.

However, the radicals expressing disillusionment with Maduro's alleged inertia overstate their case. Maduro's ‘peace dialogue’ meetings – regardless of whether they resulted in concessions to the private sector (as the radicals claim) or failed to produce concrete agreements (as the opposition claims) – created a climate conducive to the reestablishment of order. In addition, the initiative opened up divisions in the enemy camp by pitting the private sector (which agreed to participate) and many opposition followers (who were repulsed by the disorders) against an intransigent opposition, which included nearly all anti-government leaders (the only important exception being Lara's governor Henri Falcón). As a result, the opposition found itself deeply divided, demoralized, lacking capacity for mobilization, and without any spokesperson who could represent a unified anti-government bloc.

Maduro's efforts to combat price speculation, hoarding, contraband and corruption, in spite of shortcomings and limitations, help define his administration as leftist and differentiate it from pre-Chávez governments prior to 1998. Underpinning the campaign is a definition of private property, first put forward by Chávez, which amounts to a rejection of the concept of the sacred, unconditional rights of property holders, a fundamental precept of capitalist ideology dating back to the eighteenth century. In his agrarian reform known as the Land Law enacted in 2001 and his decision to expropriate idle companies in 2005, Chávez made clear that private enterprises had well-defined responsibilities and would be subject to state intervention and eventual takeover if these obligations were not fulfilled.

Maduro has reinforced this principle at the level of discourse, legislation and concrete actions in an effort to counter the ‘economic war.’ In November 2013, his government initiated a campaign to check hoarding and sharp price increases by slapping commercial establishments with fines, obliging them to sell products at lower prices and in some cases jailing managers. The campaign struck a responsive chord among voters who gave the Chavistas an 11.5 percentage point margin over the opposition in municipal elections the following month. The polling firm Hinterlaces indicated that only 28 per cent opposed the economic measures taken immediately prior to the elections. The positive electoral impact of the government's crackdown undoubtedly sent chills up the spine of the business organization Fedecámaras, which viewed the actions as tantamount to bullying.

Following the December 2013 elections, the government established new mechanisms to combat the ‘economic war.’ Until then, commercial establishments were sanctioned due to non-payment of taxes and non-compliance with price regulation, as well as for selling at exorbitant prices goods that received preferential state treatment facilitating their importation. Beginning in 2014, the Law of Just Prices created the Superintendence Sundde, which limited the profit margin of all business transactions to 30 per cent. In addition, the law established stiff prison terms in cases of contraband (up to 14 years), hoarding and price speculation. By mid-2014, Sundde announced that it was inspecting over 4,000 businesses each month, of which over 900 were subjected to sanctions. While in some cases Sundde forced businesses to lower their prices, in others it took possession of merchandise and turned it over to community councils for sale or, in the case of medicine, gave it to hospitals. Another radical measure was the confiscation of semi-trucks involved in the transportation of contraband to neighbouring Colombia and the jailing of the truck drivers.

Sundde depends on the active participation of the general population. Each one of Sundde's inspectors (fiscales) works with two or three ‘popular inspectors’ chosen by community councils or the cells of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Some of the inspections are responses to tip-offs from the community. Informal networks also help inform the public about the sale of goods sold at a lower price under the supervision of Sundde.

In addition to regulating prices and profits, the Maduro government retained Chávez's insistence on the obligation of the private sector to maintain acceptable levels of production. In September, the government responded positively to a union request to guarantee production in two plants of the U.S.-based chemical giant Clorox, which several weeks earlier had closed down and been taken over by their workers. The Maduro government announced that the state chemical company Pequiven would supply needed components to the two plants. Vice President Jorge Arreaza, who toured one of them, pointed out that the government's action should serve as a warning to other companies. The move was particularly bold because Clorox, unlike the companies that had shut down and been taken over by Chávez in 2005, is a multinational corporation and could therefore seek legal redress in international tribunals.

Those who characterize Maduro's rule as one of retrenchment fail to recognize that the government strategy initiated by Chávez and recently escalated in response to the ‘economic war’ has little or no precedent in Venezuela. Governments in the past never confronted the business sector by temporarily occupying commercial establishments and warehouses, confiscating trucks running contraband operations, encouraging community involvement in the denunciation of business abuses, or placing limits on profits.

Similarly, the government's prosecution and jailing of Chavistas on charges of corruption is without precedent, even while these actions evidently have not thus far served as an effective deterrent to unethical practices. Most recently, former minister and governor Rafael Isea fled the country after being charged with misuse of funds allocated to public works projects. The opposition typically claims, though without proof, that the government's actions are reprisals against Chavista dissidents. In fact, Isea, as well as several other high-level Chavistas who have faced arrest under the Maduro government, had been closely associated with the PSUV leadership. According to attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz, 493 Venezuelans were jailed on corruption charges during the first half of 2014.

Nevertheless, there are clear limitations and shortcomings in the government's response to the ‘economic war’ currently being waged against the revolution. Most importantly, the government has failed to provide the public with detailed information about probes and judicial proceedings following the well-publicized operations against contraband, hoarding and price speculation. This failure has produced scepticism among some rank-and-file Chavistas regarding the government's commitment to facing down powerful economic interests, as opposed to truck drivers, smaller merchants and members of the informal economy – although certainly sanctions have been imposed on large commercial establishments as well. The Maduro government has evidently given in to Fedecámaras’ insistence – expressed at the peace dialogue talks – on traditional legal channels and the right to defence prior to being sanctioned, rather than the fast-track process justified in situations of crisis.

Maduro's leftist critics call the government's response to the ‘economic war’ ‘defensive’ and ‘reactive.’ In contrast, government advisor and university professor Judith Valencia says she prefers to view the government's campaign as a ‘counter-offensive.’[3] Regardless of which term best describes Maduro's actions, his measures defining and restricting the decision-making prerogatives of the private sector contradict the view that the government is merely passive and devoid of an alternative agenda.

Exchange Controls Out of Control

The Maduro government's inability to halt the ongoing increase in the open-market exchange rate, which by December 2014 reached 160 bolívares to the dollar (a more than two-fold increase in twelve months), has generated severe criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Most critics, however, fail to recognize the complexity of the ‘economic war.’ In addition, they tend to attach ideological tags to a problem that demands practical reasoning free from dogmatic mindsets of either the neoliberal or Marxist variety.

The ratio between the official exchange rate and the open-market one is now over ten to one, a disparity that is a recipe for contraband activity and corruption. The Venezuelan economy (sometimes referred to as an ‘economy of ports’) is highly dependent on imports and, lacking sufficient official (or ‘preferential’) dollars to cover all needs, the upward trend of the open-market rate drives inflation. Retailers who sell imported merchandise, regardless of whether the item was imported with preferential dollars, tend to set prices on the basis of the open-market rate rather than the official one. In addition, the greater the disparity between the open-market and official exchange rates, the greater the illicit profit derived from fraudulent requests for preferential dollars – supposedly needed to pay for imports – which are then sold on the open market for an enormous profit.

True to their neoliberal beliefs, opposition leaders attribute these problems to the Chavista original sin of having established exchange controls in the first place in 2003.[4] The opposition's leading economist José Guerra places the blame on the “model in which the state is the central axis of the economy and that has not functioned anyplace in the world.”[5]

The system of exchange controls, however, functioned relatively well for nearly a decade, during which time the disparity between the open-market exchange rate and the official rate remained a manageable two to one. When in late 2012 the open-market rate more than doubled, the government refrained from taking action, either by increasing the official rate, or clamping down on price manipulation, or both. At the time, Chávez's physical condition was subject to much speculation, and in fact it turned out that he was only months away from dying. Undoubtedly, physical and psychological distress impeded his capacity to take immediate and decisive action. Maduro inherited the dilemma: once a large disparity existed between the two rates, any devaluation of the official rate to re-establish the two to one ratio of previous years ran the risk of triggering rampant inflation. Needless to say, for Maduro to have blamed the late and much-venerated Chávez for allowing the exchange rate to spiral out of control would have been considered virtually sacrilegious.

Maduro waits for favourable opening

In the face of the steady weakening of the bolívar and other financial difficulties, the Maduro government has failed to take difficult but necessary measures, such as a series of mini-devaluations and increases in the price of gasoline (currently the cheapest in the world). Several factors explain the government's immobility. In the first instance, some ministers (including Planning Minister Jorge Giordani before his angry exit from the movement in mid-2014) adhered to a dogmatic Marxist view of the market as antithetical to socialist goals and thus largely irrelevant to the formulation of economic policy.

In the second instance, some Chavista leaders consider Venezuela's dual economy acceptable from a political viewpoint: on the one hand, members of the popular classes wait in long lines at chain stores for products at artificially low prices; on the other hand, more affluent Venezuelans pay much higher prices for merchandise often in violation of ‘just price’ criteria and in some cases sold illegally.[6] In light of the precariousness of the political situation during the guarimba and looking ahead to the congressional elections slated for December 2015, Maduro chose not to pay the political price of a major devaluation and gasoline price increase, and more recently has indicated that he prefers to wait for more favourable economic circumstances in which to act. The ideal time to have done so, however, was on the heels of the defeat of the guarimba in mid-2014, when the government had the upper hand – as may well have occurred had Chávez not passed away.

The debate on devaluation and gasoline prices in Venezuela does not directly correlate with positions on the political spectrum. In some cases, conservatives concur with leftists (although, needless to say they employ different arguments). Leftist factions such as Marea Socialista oppose the implementation of both measures, at least for a period of time. Marea Socialista argues that prior to devaluation a study needs to be undertaken of the public debt, and that gasoline prices should only be increased through a national referendum. Meanwhile, opposition standard-bearer Henrique Capriles, in a display of the populism that he constantly rails against, also puts up resistance to devaluation and gasoline price increases.

On the other hand, the much-respected Chavista economist Victor Alvarez calls for a major devaluation in which the official rate would approximate the true market rate. Fedecámaras, in accordance with its neoliberal principles, goes even further by supporting elimination of exchange controls altogether. Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez, for his part, calls for complementary measures to soften the impact of adjustments on the popular sectors. It seems obvious that in addition to compensatory programs, devaluation should not be too precipitous lest it run the risk of triggering either mass protests (as neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ did in the 1980s and 1990s) or steep inflation, or both.

A Mixed Scorecard

In summary, while Maduro has sometimes lacked Chávez's political instincts and his actions have not been successful in checking inflation, he has demonstrated a firm commitment to confronting business abuses unmatched by the governments of more advanced capitalist nations in recent decades. Nevertheless, the Maduro government can be faulted for slowness in responding to the exchange rate problem that has reached crisis proportions. Within the Chavista movement, the debate around various proposals designed to get the exchange rate under control is largely devoid of broader ideological significance.

Criticism of the government from those supportive of the process of change in Venezuela comes from diverse quarters, particularly Chavista intellectuals and left-wing factions such as Marea Socialista, but their opinions reflect the real frustration of much of the rank and file. This erosion of enthusiasm is perhaps natural given the Chavistas’ sixteen years in power, aggravated by the urgency of the mounting economic problems and the corruption that is recognized even by the government as extensive.

The PSUV leadership frequently employs a favourite Chávez slogan, ‘Unity, Unity and more Unity,’ against its critics on the left. Washington's unyielding hostility to Chavista rule, which was most recently demonstrated by sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on Venezuelan government officials, bolsters the argument for toning down criticism and closing ranks. Another term used by PSUV leaders to discredit leftist critics is ‘izquierdistas trasnochados’ (the equivalent of ‘armchair generals’).

More worrisome, and indicative of a growing intolerance, is the significant number of critical Chavistas who have had their programs removed from state-run radio and television. One such example is Vanessa Davies, a long-time leftist who often formulated tough questions on her popular TV interview program ‘Contragolpe.’ Some cabinet ministers considered her a thorn in their side and were reluctant to appear on her show, but had previously been pressured into doing so by Chávez himself.[7] Much of the Chavista leadership is reluctant to accept open criticism on this front because they consider the private media to be an opposition stronghold, which has played an ongoing role in destabilization efforts ever since the beginning of Chávez's rule.

Given the government's mixed performance, the Chavista leadership should expect and tolerate sharp criticism from within their movement's ranks. A first step in the direction of a much-needed pluralism would be to separate at least part of the leadership of the PSUV from the state, that is, the cabinet ministers and governors who currently control the party. Indeed, social movement leaders do not currently occupy top party positions. Correcting this imbalance would provide venues for ‘self-criticism’ from below. Most important, Chavista leaders should recognize both in discourse and actions that criticism from within the movement is not part of the problem but rather part of the solution. At the same time, the radical Chavistas, regardless of the veracity of their criticisms, exaggerate when they point to the government's errors and the problems the country faces as proof that revolutionary goals have been abandoned and claim the process of change is fully in reverse.

Steve Ellner has taught economic history at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela since 1977. He is the editor of Latin America's Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). This article first published on the New Left Project website.

1. Evaristo Marcano, “Chávez frente a una segunda muerte y desde la revolución.” Aporrea, September 9, 2014.
2. Valderrama and Aponte, “La socialdemocracia proveedora y su fracaso inevitable,” Aporrea , October 30, 2014.
3. Valencia, personal interview, Caracas, December 3, 2014.
4. José Guerra, Del legado de Chávez al desastre de Maduro. Caracas: Editorial Libros Marcados.
5. Guerra, “Para superar la crisis hay que cambiar este modelo económico.” El Progreso (Ciudad Guayana), October 28, 2014.
6. Maryclen Stelling (leading Chavista political analyst), personal interview, Caracas, December 4, 2014.
7. Davies, personal interview, Caracas, August 3, 2014.

Climate Change: Dialogue between civil society and U.N. government ministers

What is the COP (‘Conference of the Parties’)?

The COP is the primary decision-making body in the United Nations on the threat of climate change. At its meetings, countries review the implementation of measures to reduce carbon emissions and bring climate change under control and make (or do not make) appropriate decisions.

The COP meets every year, unless the countries decide otherwise. The first COP meeting was held in Berlin, Germany in March, 1995. The December 2015 meeting in Paris, France, is the twenty-first to be held and is therefore called “COP20.”

Revolutionary Venezuela suggests, in its initiative of a dialogue between members of civil society and UN delegates to the COP20 summit, that it is the social movements that hold the answer to Climate Change. Grassroots leaders and social movements have been denied a place at in the discussions and negotiations. The Social PreCOP is important because it sets a precedent for the participation of civil society in official climate change proceedings.

Change the system, Not the Climate: Voices from the Social pre-Cop 20

by Cory Fischer Hoffman

Nov. 10, 2014 - A warm ocean breeze rolled across the picturesque beach on Venezuela's Caribbean island of Margarita. Sitting directly on the coastline, the expropriated Hotel Venetur, formerly the Hilton, was transformed this past week into a site for social movements and government representatives to address climate change policy in preparation for the upcoming United Nations Climate talks (COP20). According to a recently released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Caribbean islands like Margarita, will be the first to be impacted by rising sea levels as a result of a changing climate.

In a brave attempt to initiate dialogue between members of civil society and government ministers, the Venezuelan government hosted two gatherings, called Social PreCOPs. The first Social PreCOP was held on Margarita island in July, and representatives of social movements, grassroots leaders and NGOs, drafted an ambitious document, called the Margarita Declaration. The goal of the second Social PreCOP was to adapt that document into a policy platform and create a dialogue between members of civil society and UN delegates and ministers prior to the COP20 summit which will be held in Lima in the beginning of next month. Over 80 organizations from around the world were represented at the Social PreCOP.

A report by Australia's Climate Commission that concluded that in order to maintain the global rise in temperature at below 1.5 degrees Celsius, only 20 percent of the fossil fuels that we know of can be extracted, and therefore 80 percent must be “unburnable.” This demand has been characterized by the slogan “keep the oil in the soil.”

Some of the solutions presented at the Social PreCOP came from examining the roots of the climate crisis. Members of civil society and especially those from the Global South pointed to the contaminating impact of the industrialization, extraction, and resource accumulation of Europe and the United States and therefore introduced the concept of historical debt, or a disproportionate responsibility to address the climate crisis.

In addition to presenting the goal of reducing fossil-fuel emissions and transitioning towards community controlled renewable energy many people also asserted the urgent need to adopt adaptation strategies that can be employed in the face of a changing climate. Labor organizations spoke to the particular impact that an economic transition might have on workers. Members of civil society representing the voices of indigenous peoples, women, and youth asserted the ways in which climate change were impacting them as well as the unique role that each group plays in building solutions to the climate crisis. The working document that was brought to the ministerial meeting states “Youth plays a crucial role. It is essential to create and promote participation mechanisms enabling the youth to generate transformations.”

After participants in the Social PreCOP worked through many drafts of a revised version of the Margarita document with the Venezuelan government representatives, they finally reached consensus on a document that could be presented to the 47 government ministers and ambassadors from around the world who attended the dialogue with civil society. Thirty civil society representatives were chosen to attend a session with government representatives and each delegate was given the opportunity to speak and address the group.

Since the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, in their 19 Conference of Parties (COP) representatives of civil society have never been granted this type of access to the official proceedings. While some high-level NGOs have been allotted 2 minutes for testimony, grassroots leaders and social movements have been denied a place at the table. The Social PreCOP is truly historic because it sets a precedent for more participation of civil society in official climate change proceedings which, Ministers also welcomed.

Asad Rehmen of Friends of the Earth (FoE), stated that based on historical responsibility and capacity, the US is responsible for 47% of historical global emisions, Europe is responsible for 11% and the developing world is responsible for zero point, zero zero 8 percent of the emissions. While representatives of the United States were present at the Social PreCOP, they declined to speak to the press.

Despite disagreements in positions, and frustrations around process, participants in the Social PreCOP broadly recognized the significance of creating such a unique venue for participation and dialogue between governments and civil society. While some grassroots leaders thought Venezuela played too heavy-handed of a role in drafting the working document, everyone commended their bravery in opening up such a distinct and historic space for debate and discussion.

The slogan of the Social PreCOP is “change the system, not the climate.” While social movement leaders where not shy to mention the irony of the host country's vast oil reserves, most felt that hosting the Social PreCOP was a great use of Venezuela's oil money.

Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez represented Venezuela at the Social PreCOP and Venezuelan Lead Climate Negotiator Claudia Salerno, chaired the summit and closed the sessions by acknowledging that the process is just the beginning. The Ministers will meet in Lima next month for the last round of climate change talks before the 2015 COP21 in Paris, where binding agreements are to be made. Hopefully the urgency for action and the demand for justice expressed by social movements will be heard at the highest levels.

New laws to undermine corruption in Venezuela

Five New Laws Passed to Provide Stronger Social Support in Venezuela

By Corry Fischer Hoffman

Caracas, November 14, 2014 - President Maduro passed five new laws yesterday in an attempt to create a stronger social safety net in the face of ongoing economic difficulty within Venezuela. The five laws, encouraging employment, creating greater guarantees in existing social programs, strengthening the power of communal councils and community financing, and increasing the rate of food subsidies, were all passed via the Enabling Law, which allows the President limited lawmaking for a temporary period.

In a national address on radio and television President Maduro stated that “Today we started the enabling offensive with five laws to favor the people, the missions, popular power and to complete the perfect strategy of giving power to the people as a means of breaking with the oligarchy and their methods of economic warfare".

The Law of Productive Employment will deploy 30,000 people to communities across the country, with the goal of decreasing youth unemployment and creating “protected, stable and dignified employment.” The program will be executed through the Youth of the Homeland Mission, which carries the name of slain Chavista legislator and youth leader Robert Serra, along with the Knowledge and Work Mission. While Venezuela's unemployment rates were a low 7% in September, 2014, the youth unemployment rate is higher, hovering at over 10%.

President Maduro emphasized the need to create work opportunities for young people that do not obstruct them from continuing their education. He criticized attempts toward “flexibilization” of labor and noted that business owners are “super-exploiting” young workers who end up working unpredictable hours and ultimately earning less money.

The Law of Productive Employment was drafted by drawing from proposals made during the consultations with youth organizations in high schools and communities throughout the country. Many Venezuelans have noted that a lack of good employment opportunities for youth could be a contributing factor to the high crime rates within the country. While Maduro made no direct reference to this connection, the focus is to build employment opportunities to youth that also offer the possibility of continuing with study and training and to create “dignified employment, not slaves,” he emphasized.

The Organic Law of Missions, Great Missions and Micro missions, aims to further institutionalize the social programs (called missions in Venezuela) and to guarantee access and funding to those who participate in them. “This is a historic law because it gives legal, structural and institutional protection to millions of men and women who participate in the missions,” Maduro said after he signed the new law.

He claimed that the law would protect mission participants and he accused opposition politician and the governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles of “sabotaging” the social missions. Maduro also noted that one day the Missions will be constitutionally protected but, for now, the goal of the law is to guarantee the funding and benefits of the programs to current participants and to expand the existing social missions to the new buildings, neighborhoods, and territories constructed through Venezuelan Grand Housing Mission (GMMV).

Through the new law, the President also assured that there would be a “more efficient” means of handling public funds, indicating his desire that this law will also serve to combat government corruption. The social missions have been funded directly through Venezuela's state-run oil sector.

The Organic Law of Missions, Great Missions and Micro missions demonstrates a continued commitment to fund and strengthen the social missions even in the midst of falling prices for oil on the global market. Maduro also suggested that if the very low gas prices in the country are raised, that the revenue generated could be diverted directly into the new Fund for Missions.

The Law of Community Management of Services, Competencies and other Powers reaffirm and institutionalize the power and legitimacy of the communal councils as viable bodies for the management of resources, among other responsibilities.

Maduro described the work entailed in the new law, saying, “In this work, we have to be bold to delegate, hand over and take leadership from the people so that they can exercise their power with wisdom, with their power, with their capacity and honesty.” he also reaffirmed that this is a commitment to be made on the part of both the government and the self-governing communities. “It is a double-test of the confidence that the revolutionary government is depositing in the people and for the self-confidence of the people in their own capabilities.”

Additionally, the president signed the Law for the Financing of Projects of Popular Power which he described as “what will guarantee the financing of grassroots organizations of popular power".

The final law that Maduro passed through his “enabling offensive” was a reform to the Food Law for Workers. This reform raised the value of food tickets, which are used as currency in the country's supermarkets, by 50%. These food tickets are granted to all government workers, unemployed people, seniors, and others who can demonstrate financial need, to help ensure they are able to cover their basic needs.

The Venezuelan president noted that he is examining raising the amount of money specifically allotted to the elderly for food and medicine through their social security accounts (IVSS). Prior to the Bolivarian government's election to power, there was not a general pension for seniors. Currently all seniors, including women who were housewives, can receive a pension. Maduro noted that there are currently roughly 2 million and 700 thousand pensioners in Venezuela.

The increased food tickets will be implemented December 1st, right before the holiday season. In light of ongoing shortages, and increased inflation, these measures look to widen the social safety net in Venezuela and provide protection from the consequences of what the government calls an "economic war" and high inflation. Additionally, the call for “more efficient” management of social missions’ funds is seen as an attempt to undermine government corruption and theft of public funds.< During his appearance last night, President Maduro asserted that 2014 was the year in which a coup attempt, led through the militant opposition guarimba barricades was defeated and that 2015 will be the year for defeating the "economic war".

We will celebrate the fall of the Israeli wall together

Venezuela Starts Scholarship for 1,000 Palestinians to Study Medicine

By Gabriela Lazaro

On Thursday, November 6th, Venezuela welcomed 119 Palestinian students, 36 from Gaza, to begin their studies in medicine at the Dr. Salvador Allende Latin American Medical School.

A large crowd of Venezuelans, waiving Palestinian flags and wearing Kuffiyehs welcomed the students, at the foot of their airplane. During the welcoming ceremony, President Nicolas Maduro stated to the students, “The voice of Venezuela is always, and will always be, at the service of truth and the struggle of the Palestinian people. You will see, sooner of later, that we will celebrate the fall of the Israeli wall together.
Down with the Israeli wall!”

A month ago, President Maduro announced the Yasser Arafat Scholarship Program, which would eventually welcome 1,000 Palestinian youth to Venezuela, where they would begin their medical studies.

The aim of the program is that upon completing their studies, these students would return to their homeland to provide medical attention to the Palestinian population. The model of the program and the Dr. Salvador Allende Latin American Medical School is inspired by the Cuban schools which have trained thousands of students and provided medical attention to millions across the world.

The Bolivarian Revolution and the people of Venezuela have long showed solidarity to the Palestinian cause.

Back in July, Maduro condemned Israeli attacks on Palestine and stated that Israel was committing a “war of extermination” against the Palestinian people. The Venezuelan government created a shelter named after Hugo Chavez to house orphaned children who lost their parents during the attacks on Gaza. Venezuela has also sent humanitarian aid and continues to do so. Last Sunday, the latest air-load of aid and supplies left Venezuela for Gaza. This is the third shipment since July.

During the welcoming ceremony, President Maduro stated, “we receive you into our homeland on this very special and heroic day. Palestine is here; the future of Palestine is here, in its youth…. Palestine has not allowed itself to be eliminated. It has refused to die, it has resisted, and Palestine will live.”

U.N. confirms Venezuela as leader in the Americas

Taking a Leadership Role: Venezuela on U.N. Security Council while Washington Suffers Setback in Prestige

By Larry Birns, Frederick B. Mills, and Ronn Pineo
October 21st 2014

With 181 out of 193 of the United Nations representatives voting yes on Thursday, October 16, the Venezuelan government has gained not only a seat on the U.N. Security Council, but an affirmation of a leadership role in the Americas. As a result, there are now two strong features of Venezuelan foreign policy that will likely have an intensified impact on the Council: Caracas’ ongoing commitment to construct a multi-polar world, and its anticipated presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement starting next year.

Although there have been some moments of dismay over the last fifteen years with Venezuela’s evolving foreign policy, overall the nation has advanced to a position where it draws considerable respect among other Latin American nations.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR
Acclaim for Venezuela’s international position already has stemmed from its strong support for efforts aimed at regional integration and the establishment of the region as a “zone of peace,” as well as for its long-time championing of the inclusion of Cuba at the Summit of the Americas. These positions have matured and have now attracted near universal support in recent years by a series of new Latin American regional bodies that have been formed, most notably CELAC (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños) and UNASUR (The Union of South American Nations or Unión de Naciones Suramericanas).

Latin American nations came together to form these new bodies with the purpose of shaping a common hemispheric vision without interference from the United States. Indeed, the U.S. and Canada are not even members of either CELAC or UNASUR, and may not choose to join. Meanwhile, Venezuela has been a key player and gained appreciation for its participation in the peace negotiations between the FARC guerrillas (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the government of Colombia.

Banco del Sur and trade relations
Continuing the legacy of former president Hugo Chávez, Venezuela is a leading proponent of complementarity in trade relations between regional nations. This philosophy involves finding innovative ways of exchanging goods between Latin American nations based on responding to the most urgent and rational public needs of each country. A growing diversification of trade relationships has resulted, with numerous deals also being struck between Latin American nations and China, Russia, and the European Union, trade arrangements that completely bypass the State Department. Venezuela has also played a key role in the creation of new Latin American financial institutions, such as the Banco del Sur(Bank of the South), as alternatives to the orthodoxies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Obama administration refrained from open opposition to a Venezuelan seat on the Council until the vote had been taken and Washington had been humbled by the outcome. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and other hard-line US legislators, as well as the Washington Post and the New York Times, publicly showed their irrelevance by urging the administration to thwart a Venezuelan diplomatic victory. Los-Lehtinen, a Miami ultra-conservative, argued that the administration of President Nicolas Maduro is bent on “undermining peace and security in the region.”

The truth is that unlike the U.S., Venezuela has not backed golpista [leaders of coups] regimes in the region and is not involved in a serious conflict anywhere. Rather than being so strained Caracas is serving as an effective mediator in peace negotiations to help bring to an end the longest running war in the hemisphere, and does not have a military base in any other Latin American nation. On the other hand, the anti-Chavista lobby in Washington, and its friends on the editorial boards of the Washington Post and New York Times, seem content to uncritically repeat the claims of the Venezuelan opposition.

Venezuela continues to face economic challenges
No doubt the Bolivarian revolution faces serious and urgent economic challenges, persistent high crime, rogue elements within some of its police units, and still battles corruption within the state bureaucracy. Still, these challenges should be set into the political context of a determined and violent ultra-right opposition, which is set on achieving extra-constitutional regime change. And there have been important gains under Chávez and now Maduro. Over the past fifteen years, the revolution has succeeded in lifting several million Venezuelans out of poverty, increased national control over the country’s natural resources, and supported the further development of organized expressions of popular power.

Venezuela - a sorely needed rational voice
Progressive forces, including COHA (Council on Hemispheric Affairs), may not greet with satisfaction every Venezuelan domestic and foreign policy position, and will probably continue to take issue on a selective basis with various political and economic developments. Nevertheless, a non-permanent Venezuelan seat on the United Nations Security Council is likely to provide a sorely needed rational voice for multi-polarity and an opportunity to broaden the debate over how to resolve international conflicts while promoting world peace and allowing for the respect of authentic national interest.

Institutional affiliation is for identification purposes only and all opinions expressed are the author’s own. Larry Birns is COHA Director. Frederick B. Mills and Ronn Pineo are COHA Senior Research Fellows.

Pres. Maduro: A stable, prosperous and working Venezuela, guarantees a peaceful continent

Venezuela’s Pres. Maduro: Colombian Paramilitary Devised Serra Assassination, All Killers Identified

by Ewan Roberton

Mérida, 16th October 2014 – All eight men who participated in the murder of pro-government lawmaker Robert Serra have been identified, said Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro in a press conference last night.

“This assassination was being prepared for over three months. It was directed by a Colombian whose legal identity we have not yet revealed. A Colombian paramilitary meticulously directed the whole preparation process of the crime. He used a gang directed by another thuggish murderer, Padilla Leyva, alias “Colombia,” Maduro told local and international media.

Venezuelan president showed CCTV footage of how six men entered Robert Serra’s house on Wednesday 1 October, saying that in five to six minutes both Serra and his assistant Maria Herrera were stabbed to death. Two other men waited outside with getaway vehicles.

Serra's bodyguard: turncoat

According to Venezuelan authorities the “weak point” in Serra’s protection was his bodyguard Eduwin Camacho Torres, who had allegedly turned against Serra and was the person who let the other members of the gang into the young lawmaker’s Caracas home.

Two members of the group, including Torres, have been arrested and have confessed their role in the assassination, according to authorities. The names of the other alleged members of the gang were released last night, and officials pledge to find and arrest them.

The government will also request the assistance of Interpol in tracking down the suspects under the possibility that some may have fled the country.

“We request them; we’re going to look everywhere. We are also going to capture those who are intellectually responsible, whatever surname they have,” announced Maduro.

Destabilisation strategy

President Maduro tied Serra’s assassination to what he said was a planned destabilisation strategy against the Venezuelan state directed by far-right opposition figures in Venezuela, Colombia and the United States.

Maduro argued that a strategy of political terrorism began this year with a “violent onslaught” in February to May, when [right-wing] militant opposition street barricades shut down the normal functioning of several cities.

He also recalled the assassination of the pro-government head of a Caracas municipal council, Eliezer Otaiza, on 28 April, and the interception of paramilitaries from Colombia that same month that were allegedly travelling to the capital to assassinate top government politicians.

The arrest last month of two Venezuelan opposition activists, Lorent Gomez Saleh and Gabriel Valles, was also placed within this context. Videos were shown on Venezuelan state TV of the two discussing plans to attack the bridge linking Colombia and the Venezuelan state of Tachira. The two activists were expelled from Colombia for “national security reasons”.

Additional assassinations foiled

There exist accusations that Saleh and Valles have connections to former right-wing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

Pres. Nicolas Maduro also claimed there’s evidence that assassination plans against education minister Hector Rodriguez and National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello had been foiled earlier this month, shortly after Serra’s assassination.

The Venezuelan president argued that “some media and imperial elites” did not understand that the destabilisation of Venezuela would unsettle the wider region.

“Only a stable, prosperous and working Venezuela, solving its problems in peace and democracy is the guarantee of a peaceful continent,” he said.

Indigenous Resistance Day celebrated with collective land titles given to Indigenous Communities

Protection of native languages and elderly pensions for minimum wage earners

By Z.C. Dutka

Santa Elena de Uairen, October 15th, 2014 - In celebration of the nationally acclaimed Day of Indigenous Resistance, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro established a presidential council for indigenous peoples, handed over collective land titles to 14 original communities, lowered the threshold age for indigenous pensioners, and announced the creation of an institute to protect the country’s 44 native languages.

Housing pledged to poor

The South American leader also pledged 5000 new homes for indigenous communities for 2015 through the national housing mission Mision Vivienda, and announced the investment of 575 million bolivars (about $7 million) to address extreme poverty in 396 of those communities.

Aloha Nuñez, the Indigenous Peoples’ Minister, noted that the presidential council was formed as a result of elections held in 2,194 indigenous communities after the idea was discussed in 1,589 countrywide assemblies.

Delia Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the Wayúu community of Zulia state, said that the debates leading up to the creation of the council were conducted with respect, tolerance and spirituality, in the interest of enabling diverse indigenous peoples to make significant contributions to the transition towards socialism.

Language institute dedicated to indigenous languages

Nuñez also explained how the language institute is the product of many years’ collective efforts. Of the 44 different original peoples that exist in Venezuela, Nuñez said, 34 speak their language and 10 have lost theirs through lack of use.

“We should immediately found and motivate a team systematically [that can] permanently, scientifically, register, rescue and revive all indigenous languages that exist in Venezuelan territory,” said Maduro from Miraflores presidential palace where Monday’s ceremony was held.

Amoar Myor Mission - pensions for retired indigenous minimum wage earners

Shortly after, the Venezuelan president announced the incorporation of all indigenous above the age of 50 into the Amor Mayor mission for special elderly pensions. Nationwide, the mission applies to women over 55 and men over 60 who live in family homes maintained by minimum wage workers.

Land titles that encompass six ethnic groups and 14 communities of Anzoategui state were presented to community representatives; 1,891 hectares to the Guatacarito people, 438 to the Cumanagoto, 983 to the Capachal, 3,294 to the Pedregal, 657 to the Guayabal and 1,119 hectares to the Kariñas of Mapiricurito.

From 2011 to 2013 the Committee for the Demarcation of Land and Habitat, of the indigenous ministry, has signed 40 property titles for collective lands, including over 1.8 million hectares of land.

In a similar ceremony in July, Nuñez declared, “Today, the Bolivarian government recognizes the lands that ancestrally belonged to us and have been our home for many years."

Terrorism and right-wing Assassins in Venezuela

Silence From the Media as the Paramilitaries Go Rogue

by María Páez Victor
October 8, 2014

Last Friday, the centre of Caracas was filled with thousands of mourning citizens as they accompanied two flag draped coffins loaded with flowers they had cast upon it in homage.

If a Member of Parliament representing the Venezuelan opposition had been brutally tortured and stabbed to death in his own home, the Western press – including Canada’s- would have splashed the news in headlines around the world. Yet this has just happened to a Member of Parliament from the governing party of Venezuela, but the international press is mostly silent. International politicians have not wrung their hands with indignation or regret, as they have about the lawful incarceration of opposition leader Leopoldo López who publicly and repeatedly incited mobs to violence and caused has at least 47 deaths.

On Wednesday, October 1, 2014, Robert Serra, 27 years old, a lawyer and legislator from the governing party PSUV, the youngest Member of Parliament of Venezuela, and his partner Maria Herrera, were assassinated in their own home in a central area of Caracas.

It was an outrageous and deliberate act of terror. Robert Serra and María Herrera were tortured, stabbed and then bled to death. He specialized in criminology, and was engaged in the task of helping to curb crime in the country. María Herrera assisted him in this vital work. Robert Serra came from a poor family; his mother worked as a street hawker to help him go to law school. He was famous for his insightful interventions in parliament and was much beloved, some referred to him as “ a future Chávez”.

Their deaths were carried out systematically. Ernesto Samper, ex-president of Colombia and current president of UNASUR, said: “This crime is evidence of the infiltration of Colombian paramilitary in Venezuela.”

Just a few weeks ago, President Santos of Colombia deported to Venezuela a young man, Lorent Saleh, who had been meeting with paramilitaries in Colombia to conspire against the Venezuelan government. He appears in a video with Alvaro Uribe, ex-president of Colombia, who owes his political career to his connections to Escobar, the head of Colombian narco-traffic, and is accused by the Colombian Senate of being behind the proliferation of the paramilitary there. Saleh stated he was buying arms of war and contracting snipers and explosive experts because “they” were going to carry out selective assassination of 20 leaders of the Venezuelan government in order to bring it down. Then he said who “they” were: leaders of Venezuela’s opposition parties.

In Parliament, days before his assassination, Robert Serra had denounced -in no uncertain terms- the terrorist plans of Alvaro Uribe and Lorent Saleh.

The Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro has been under relentless and continuous attack since it was elected. It has been submitted to economic sabotage with contraband and withholding of food and goods, a deliberate campaign of false rumors, and three months of street violence to create the appearance of chaos and lack of governability. These subversive actions were deftly overcome by a government that stuck to the letter of the law, refused to take the bait of meeting violence with violence, and its call for peace included setting up negotiations with the opposition facilitated by ministers of neighboring countries. The Venezuelan people overwhelmingly repudiated the violent opposition tactics, and gave Mr. Maduro’s popularity an even larger boost.

In an attempt to produce “regime change”, violence has been intensified now to include assassinations. This was agreed upon in a meeting at Guadarrama, Spain at the end of June hosted by the Spanish spy agency CNI and the FAES – a think tank of the party Partido Popular of ex-president of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar. The USA’s CIA carries out the financing and training of the CNI, as Edward Snowdon has revealed.[i]

Two Venezuelan opposition leaders, Julio Borges and Ramon Muchacho, who were also behind the street violence, were present, and a video message from Maria Corina Machado was viewed. She could not be present as she is being investigated for her part in the street violence, which she enthusiastically led. Machado, as a standing member of Venezuela’s parliament, ignominiously accepted simultaneously the position of ambassador of Panama in order to address the OAS in 2014. According to the Constitution, she in effect, forfeited her condition of parliamentarian by representing a foreign government – and one, which at that time - was against Venezuela.

Machado, along with Lopez, instigated the street violence that cost so many deaths and millions in damages. Yet, holding such disdain for the rule of law, she was invited to the Canadian Council for the Americas to speak at the prestigious Canadian law firm of Cassel Brock and Blackwell last May. This was a clear example either of Canadian willful ignorance or connivance.

The imperial forces believe Venezuela’s oil is just too rich a prize to leave in the hands of its people. The sterling leadership that the country has shown in promoting the integration of Latin America for the purposes of solving its common social problems and to protect its natural resources is just unacceptable to the greed of multinationals, the United States, and their subservient allies who seem to think the petroleum is theirs to take.

The assassinations of Robert Serra and María Herrera, of Eliézer Otáiz head of Caracas Municipality 5 months ago, the killings during the street riots of last March that were led by paramilitary (not students as the world press stated) and the bombing death of district attorney Danilo Anderson ten years ago, as well as the hundreds of rural leaders that have been assassinated by paramilitary mercenaries hired by the large landowners, have only fed the determination of the Venezuelan people. They know that their Bolivarian government, no matter how besieged and no matter how big the problems, is a government on their side, not on the side of the powerful elites and their foreign owners that have never in Venezuelan history sided with the poor or the nation’s best interest.

As the crowds wound their slow way towards the cemetery where Robert Serra and María Herrera were to be buried, the ubiquitous cry that was heard at every step was: “Justice! Justice! We want justice!” The Venezuelan authorities dare not ignore this clamor.

María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada.

[i]Carlos Fazio, “Violencia y terrorismo son ejes de la nueva fase de desetabilizacion subversive”, Resumen Latinoamericano, 2 octubre 2014,

Pres. Nicolás Maduro speaks at U.N. on climate change

Change the system to preserve life on the planet
President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro
23 September 2014

...Delegation, heads of delegations…
We are here today in New York five years after the largest meeting of world leaders at the UN to discuss the main threat to human survival in this century which is climate change. That meeting was in Copenhagen, Denmark, where 119 heads of state and government were present, and I remember it well because I attended as Minister of Foreign Affairs accompanying our eternal leader Hugo Chávez, who, along with other leaders of the continent among them President Evo Morales, expressed clear and forceful positions representing the voice of our peoples.

Today, climate change continues with more devastating consequences each day, threatening the global destruction of life on the planet and, unfortunately, we still do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. The environmental crisis that we suffer today is defined by an alarming reality, and meanwhile, the factors that coalesce towards the destruction of the planet advance with acceleration and still we continue without taking the necessary measures of environmental control.

Nature abused by rich capitalist nations
Nature has been giving us clear signals of this grave state of affairs, but the powerful of this world only continue to abuse it systematically. This environmental crisis, the result of human actions, is part above all of the crisis of a model of a capitalist civilization, based on norms of production and consumption that are unsustainable, that produce inequality, injustice, poverty and the destruction of the planet. Capitalism has ignored during decades Nature’s capacity to withstand and to renew, the laws of thermodynamics and entropy. Within the logic of capitalism, economic growth is incompatible with the survival of the planet. The logic of capital exploitation is simply unsustainable.

Today, 20% of the richest countries of capitalism consume 84% of the world’s energy, polluting the planet and destroying its equilibrium. These polluting world powers have in two centuries impacted life in the planet, it is these powerful countries the ones that now want to hoist the banners of environmentalism in order to make more money with pollution by putting a price on emissions and exchange in financial terms, the right to pollute this world. We watch with astonishment how those who are principally responsible for climate change and its terrible consequences, do not have the minimum political will to stop and reverse an evil of planetary dimensions generated by the large economic and financial global corporations.

Human species at risk
It is necessary that we cast our memory back. It is now 22 years since George Bush Sr., at the cusp of the imperial arrogance of the unipolar Word, in Rio de Janerio said, quote; “Our lifestyle is not negotiable.” This was in response to those who were demanding concrete actions against climate change that year of 1992. As well, exactly 22 years ago, on 12th of June 1992 also from Rio de Janeiro, the Cuban and Latin-American Commander Fidel Castro stated: ”An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the quick and progressive eradication of its natural life conditions – humans.

Now we have to take consciousness that this problem, 22 years afterwards, has aggravated. If yesterday it was late, soon it will be too late – even if some may be displeased to be reminded of the most conservative scientific predictions, it is still necessary to say it here clearly. We cannot continue under a model of development that abuses drastically the conditions of human life and places in dangers the existence of future generations.

David Orr, professor of Oberlin College University and adviser to President Barack Obama said at the beginning of this year the following:” - “Even much before the climate crisis became the biggest failure of the market that the world has ever seen, it was an enormous political and governmental failure.” He was referring to the idea that was imposed during the 1980s of last century whereby the responsibilities of the state should be reduced to next to nothing and the course for capital and markets should be amplified to infinity.

Scenario of apathy, impotence concern and indolence
In view of this dark scenario made up of apathy, impotence, concern and indolence, it is more timely than ever to remember our Indo-American wisdom from South America that warns: “Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will you come to understand that you cannot eat money.”

This is the view of the so called industrialized world that is now being proposed that countries of the South should transition into with the so called green economy. These proposal of the industrialized countries not only go against the right to development that our countries have but also they want to masquerade the same capitalist formulas using the flags of the environmental and ecological movements.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela confirms its commitment to advance holistic planning that considers the three fundamental pillars of ecological sustainable development with a concept of a social ecological economy.

Venezuela - 70% hydroelectricity
Venezuela today obtains 70% of its energy from hydroelectricity and has 60% of its territory under some administrative protection. More tan 222 protected areas preserve 58 million hectares of forests, including national parks, biosphere reserves and fauna reserves. The conservation of Venezuelan forests represents emission savings of 12,221 million tons of CO2 and has diminished the loss of forests today by more tan 50%.

Mr. President, Venezuela had the pleasure to receive in our country the PreCop social delegations; more tan 300 delegates from 135 organizations and social movements from 71 countries who approved the Margarita Declaration.

Mr. President, it is impossible to dodge the imminent danger, and we say this from Venezuela, of a climatic collapse that is already afoot. One of the most evident signs is the terrible phenomenon of climate change, which the great German thinker, Walter Benjamin, predicted as he referred to the domination of capital in the third decade of the 20th century.

Change the system to preserve life on the planet
How long are they going to continue to propose to us capitalist solutions of the old destructive model as answers to the gravest problems that have been created in the last 100 years? Can anyone believe, to give an eloquent example, that the transnational corporations can be converted from one day to the next to the protagonists of the saviours of the planet? Are those who turn human life and nature into merchandize going to accept commitments to change their logic in order to save the planet?

From our America, Mr. President, we stand up in protest and in indignation before those models that now are trying to call themselves “green economy”.

Mr. President, we are children of the Pachamama, and from South America we say: Let us look with respectful voices, with respectful eyes, for the changes to a model that is urgently needed by all humanity. We salute the convocation of this meeting on climate change and we repeat, as our Commander Chavez said in Copenhagen, let us listen to the voice of the street, the shouts of the people in Copenhagen five years ago still echo when they said: “If we want to change the climate, let us change the system.” Let us listen to the voices of the people that marched last Sunday in New York who said: “Action now! No more words!”

We at the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela commit to continue to defend the right of the people to change the system so that we can preserve life on the planet. Thank you very much dear friends.
This speech was translated by Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle - Cblriel -

Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and ALBA for Palestinian freedom

Latin America Reacts To Israel’s Massacre In Gaza

By Ramona Wadi

In May 2014, the Jerusalem Post reported on Israel’s intentions to seek stronger economic ties with Latin American countries — with a particular focus on Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Peru — in an attempt to weaken its dependency on Europe.

“We are making a very concentrated and focused effort to vary our markets, from our previous dependence on the European market, to the growing Asian and Latin American markets, in which Israel needs to take a small market share and bring about growth, employment and social welfare in the State of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at a weekly cabinet meeting.

These efforts were apparently paying off as early as February, when Israel was admitted as an observer nation to the Pacific Alliance, a South American trade alliance composed of Peru, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia. In June, prior to the commencement of the ongoing Operation Protective Edge, Colombia signed free trade agreements with Israel, among other countries.

But upon witnessing the tragedies unleashed by Operation Protective Edge, Latin American countries are now moving to sever diplomatic ties with the settler-colonial state — as some have done in the past — and Chile has already suspended its existing free trade agreements.

“We are declaring Israel a terrorist state”
The late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez seems to have triggered a stronger stance in favor of Palestinian rights in Latin America, with various leaders severing ties with Israel or enforcing other detrimental measures.

In 2006, Chavez delivered a strong speech to the United Nations Assembly denouncing U.S. imperialism and Israeli aggression within a Latin American and international context. Regarding Israel’s colonial violence, Chavez stated, “This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire and Israel firing on the people of Palestine and Lebanon.”

Speaking about Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Chavez accused Israel of genocide against Palestinians. “The question is not whether the Israelis want to exterminate the Palestinians. They’re doing it openly,” he told the French magazine Le Figaro.

Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 elicited more strong statements from Chavez. “Another aggression against the Gaza Strip has begun. Savage, savage: the State of Israel bombing the Gaza Strip again.”

The atrocities inflicted by Israel during Operation Protective Edge — an ongoing mission that has left nearly 2,000 Palestinian civilians dead so far — have unleashed a stronger reaction still. Now, however, that reaction is more widespread, going beyond what is usually expected from Venezuela and Bolivia, which severed diplomatic relations with Israel in the past.

President Maduro - sending medical to Gaza
Like his predecessor, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has insisted on describing Israel’s aggression as an extermination program against the Palestinian population.

In addition, Maduro has declared the intention of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA) to establish orphanages to shelter Palestinian children whose parents have been killed in Israeli attacks. The shelters, to be named after Venezuela’s late President Chavez, are to be established in each ALBA country — Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua, Antigua and Barbuda, Ecuador, Saint Lucia and Dominica.

According to Cubadebate, Venezuela will also be sending medical aid to hospitals in Gaza.

Evo Morales - Israel is a terrorist state
Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales, who had previously called for Israel’s indictment at the International Criminal Court, has cancelled a decades old agreement that allowed Israelis to travel to Bolivia without visas, saying, “in other words, we are declaring Israel a terrorist state.”

Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, and Cuba have also adopted firm positions with regard to diplomatic and economic relations, splintering Israel’s previous ambitions of rendering Latin America complicit in its colonial schemes. Of course, how long such stances last and how steadfast they remain will define the extent of Israel’s isolation from Latin America.

Ecuador, as well as Brazil, Chile, El Salvador and Peru, have all recalled their diplomatic envoys to Israel — a move that has angered Israel and generated even more pretentious rhetoric. According to a news report on Haaretz, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declared the diplomatic move “hasty” and a step that “constitutes encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terror organization by many countries around the world.”

Cuba - stands by Che Guevara's 1959 visit to Gaza
Cuba, meanwhile, remains a constant reference in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle, with the best manifestation of Cuban solidarity being Che Guevara’s visit to Gaza on June 18, 1959 following the triumph of the Cuban revolution.
It has maintained its historical stance within an international context. In 1973, Cuba severed diplomatic relations with Israel and has refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist ever since — a reflection of the island’s own opposition to colonial domination by the U.S., which Fidel Castro effectively stopped. The Cuban Foreign Ministry released a statement which was published in the Cuban state newspaper, Granma, last week, insisting upon international accountability, an end to the massacres in Gaza, and the restoration of basic services “to preserve the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.”

Given its penchant for supremacy, these Latin American reactions to Operation Protective Edge have infuriated Israel, which is now regurgitating the usual “terror” discourse in an attempt to win back sympathy for its massacre mission. As always, misrepresenting and manipulating facts is taking precedence in Israeli rhetoric, with the expectation that the entire world will designate Hamas a “terror organization.”

Contrary to what Palmor stated, the diplomatic repercussions befalling Israel are not “a prize” to Hamas, but a collective recognition of the necessity of making Palestinian resistance, self-determination, and land reclamation a reality.

A World to Build: New Paths Toward Twenty-First Century Socialism

New Paths Require a New Culture on the Left
Marta Harnecker

Speech given by Marta Harnecker on August 15, 2014, accepting the 2013 Liberator's Prize for Critical Thought, awarded for her book, A World to Build: New Paths Toward Twenty-First Century Socialism.

I completed this book one month after the physical disappearance of President Hugo Chávez, without whose intervention in Latin America this book could not have been written. Many of the ideas I raise in it are related in one way or another to the Bolivarian leader, to his ideas and actions, within Venezuela and at the regional and global level. Nobody can deny that there is a huge difference between the Latin America that Chávez inherited and the Latin America he has left for us today.

That is why I dedicated the book to him with the following words:
“To Commandante Chávez, whose words, orientations and exemplary dedication to the cause of the poor will serve as a compass for his people and all the people of the world. It will be the best shield to defend ourselves from those that seek to destroy this marvelous work that he began to build. When Chávez won the 1998 presidential elections, the neoliberal capitalist model was already foundering. The choice then was whether to re-establish this model, undoubtedly with some changes such as greater concern for social issues, but still motivated by the same logic of profit-seeking, or to go ahead and try to build another model. Chávez had the courage to take the second path and decided to call it “socialism,” in spite of its negative connotations.

Twenty-First Century Socialism
He called it “21st century socialism,” to differentiate it from the Soviet-style socialism that had been implemented in the 20th century. This was not about “falling into the errors of the past,” into the same “Stalinist deviations” which bureaucratized the party and ended up eliminating popular participation.

The need for peoples’ participation was one of his obsessions and was the feature that distinguished his proposals from other socialist projects in which the state resolved all the problems and the people received benefits as if they were gifts. He was convinced that socialism could not be decreed from above, that it had to be built with the people. And he also understood that protagonistic participation is what allows people to grow and achieve self-confidence, that is, to develop themselves as human beings.

The Project and the Model
I always remember the first program of “Theoretical Aló Presidente,” which was broadcasted on June 11, 2009, when Chávez quoted at length from a letter that Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, wrote to Lenin on March 4, 1920:

“Without the participation of local forces, without an organization from below of the peasants and workers themselves, it is impossible to build a new life. It seemed that the soviets were going to fulfil precisely this function of creating an organization from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic in name only. The party's influence over people ... has already destroyed the influence and constructive energy of this promising institution – the soviets.”

Distinction of socialist project and model
That is why very early on I believed it necessary to distinguish between the socialist project and a model. I understood project to mean the original ideas of Marx and Engels, and model to refer to one form that this project has historically taken. If we analyse Soviet-style socialism, we see that in those countries that implemented this model of socialism, one that Michael Lebowitz has recently called the socialism of conductors and conducted based on a vanguardist mode of production, the people were no longer the protagonist, organs of popular participation were transformed into purely formal entities, and the party was transformed into an absolute authority, the sole depositary of truth that controlled all activities: economic, political, cultural.

That is, what should have been a popular democracy was transformed into a dictatorship of the party. This model of socialism, that many have called “real socialism” is a fundamentally statist, centralist, bureaucratic model, where the key missing factor is popular participation.

Do you remember when this socialism collapsed and there was all this talk about the death of socialism and the death of Marxism? At the time, Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer that all of you know, said that they had invited us to a funeral we did not belong at. The socialism that died was not the socialist project we had fought for. What happened in reality had little to do with the kind of society Marx and Engel envisaged would replace capitalism. For them, socialism was impossible without popular participation Marx and Engel's original ideas were not only distorted by the actions of the Soviet regime and the Marxist literature disseminated by this country among the left; they were also downplayed or simply ignored in those countries outside of the Soviet orbit, given the opposition generated by the model that came to be associated with the name of socialism.

Development of human potential
It is not commonly known that, according to Marx and Engels, the future society they called communist would facilitate the integral development of all the potentialities of human beings, a development that could only be achieved through revolutionary practice. People would not develop by magic, they would develop because they struggle, they transform (in transforming circumstances, the person transforms themselves).

That is why Marx affirmed that it was only natural that the workers with which the new society would begin to be built would not be pure beings as “the muck of ages” would weigh on them. Which is why he did not condemn them, but rather placed confidence in them, that they would go about liberating themselves from this negative inheritance through revolutionary struggle. He believes in the transformation of people through struggle, through practice.

And Chávez, probably without having read these words by Marx, also understood this. In his first “Theoretical Aló Presidente” on June 11, 2009, he warned communities that they have to be on guard to avoid sectarianism. He explained:

“... if there are people, for example, residents who are not participating in politics, who do not belong to any party, well, it doesn't matter, they are welcome. What's more, if some from the opposition lives there, call them. Let them come and work, come and demonstrate, be useful, because, well, the homeland is for everyone, we have to open spaces and you will see that through praxis many people will transform themselves.

Transforming oneself and collectively through the struggle
through “Praxis is what transforms oneself, theory is theory, but theory cannot touch the heart, the bones, the nerves, the spirit of the human being and in reality nothing will change. We will not transform ourselves reading books. Books are fundamental, theory is fundamental, but we have to put it into practice, because praxis is what really transforms humans.”

It is also the case that the “collectivist” practices of real socialism, which suppresses individual differences in the name of the collective, had nothing to do with Marxism. Remember, Marx criticized bourgeois law for trying to make people artificially equal instead of acknowledging their differences. By pretending to be the same for everyone, bourgeois law ends up being an unequal right. If two workers collect potatoes and one collects twice as much as the other, should the first be paid twice as much as the second? Bourgeois law says yes, without taking into consideration that the worker who only collected half as much that day may have been sick, or was never a strong worker because he was always malnourished growing up, and therefore perhaps while putting in the same effort as the first person was only able to do half as much.

Marx, on the other hand, said that any truly fair distribution had to take into account people's differentiated needs. Hence his maxim: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Common/Collective Property
Another of Marx's ideas that was distorted by both the bourgeoisie and Soviet practice was his defence of common or collective property.

What did the ideologues of the bourgeoisie say? The communists (or socialists) will expropriate everything, your fridge, your car, your home, etc.

How ignorant! Neither Marx nor any socialist or communist has ever thought of expropriating peoples’ personal belongings. What Marx proposed was the idea of giving society back what originally belonged to them, that is, the means of production, but which was unjustly appropriated by an elite.

What the bourgeoisie does not understand, or does not want to understand, is that there are only two sources of wealth: nature and human labour, and without human labour, the potential wealth contained in nature can never be transformed into real wealth.

Marx pointed out that there is not only real human labour but also past labour, that is, labour incorporated into instruments of labour. The tools, machines, improvements made to land and, of course, intellectual and scientific discoveries that substantially increased social productivity, are a legacy passed down from generation to generation; they are a social heritage – a wealth of the people.

But the bourgeoisie, thanks to a whole process of mystification of capital – one that I don't have time to go into here – has convinced us that the capitalists are the owners of this wealth due to their efforts, their creativity, their entrepreneurial capacity, and that because they are the owners of the companies they have the right to appropriate what is produced.

Only a socialist society recognizes this inheritance as being social, which is why it must be given back to society and used for society, in the interest of society as a whole, and not to serve private interests. These goods, in which the labour of previous generations is incorporated, cannot belong to a specific person, or a specific country, but must instead belong to humanity as a whole.

Collective inheritance of the wealth of nature and human labour is socially owned
The question is: how do we ensure this happens? The only way is to de-privatize these means of productions, transforming them into social property. But since the humanity of the early 21st century is still not a humanity without borders, these actions must begin on a country-by-country basis, and the first step is therefore the handing over of ownership of the strategic means of production to a national state which expresses the interests of society.

But simply handing over the strategic means of production to the state represents a mere juridical change in ownership, because if the change in these state companies is limited to that, then the subordination of workers to an external force continues. A new management, which now calls itself socialist, might replace the capitalist management but the alienated status of the workers in the production process remains unchanged. While formally collective property, because the state represents society, real appropriation is still not collective. That is why Engels argued, “state-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution to the conflict,” although “concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.”

Separation of intellect and manual labour to promote workers control
Furthermore, Marx argued that it was necessary to end the separation between intellectual and manual labour that transforms workers into one more cog in the machine. Companies need to be managed by their workers. That is why Chávez, following through on his ideas, maintained a lot of emphasis on the notion that 21st century socialism could not limit itself to being a state capitalism that left intact work processes that alienate workers. Workers must be informed about the production process as a whole, they must be able to control it, to review and decide on production plans, the annual budget, and the distribution of the surplus, including its contribution to the national budget. Wasn't this the aim of Plan Guayana Socialista?

But, then we have the argument of the socialist managerial bureaucracy that says: how can we hand over management to the workers! They are not prepared to participate actively in the management of enterprises! And they are right, minus some rare exception, precisely because capitalism has never been interested in providing workers with the necessary technical knowledge to manage enterprises. Here I am referring not only to production, but also to matters related to marketing and finance. Concentrating knowledge in the hands of management is one of the mechanisms that enables capital to exploit workers. But this, for a revolutionary cadre, cannot be a reason to not advance toward the full participation of workers. On the contrary, processes of co-management must be initiated that allow workers to appropriate this knowledge. To do this, they must begin engaging in practical management, while at the same time acquiring training in business and management techniques in order to reach a stage of complete self-management.

Councils of Popular Government
And at the level of communities and communes, an issue like many others that I would like to talk about but can't go into detail here, I always remember what Aristóbulo Istúriz said: “we have to govern with the people so that the people can learn to govern themselves.” I understand that President Maduro is seeking to do this by promoting the participation of the organized people in his government through what he has called Councils of Popular Government.

I have said on various occasions that, for me, 21st century socialism is a goal to aspire to, and I refer to the long historic period of advancing toward this goal as a socialist transition.

But what type of transition are we talking about? We are not dealing with a transition occurring in advanced capitalist countries, something that has never occurred in history, nor of a transition in a backward country where the people have conquered state power via armed struggle as occurred with 20th century revolutions (Russia, China, Cuba). Instead, we are dealing with a very particular transition where, via the institutional road, we have achieved governmental power.

In this regard, I think the situation in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s is in some way comparable to that experienced by pre-revolutionary Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. What the imperialist war and its horrors were for Russia, neoliberalism and its horrors was for Latin America: the extent of hunger and misery, increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, destruction of nature, increasing loss of our sovereignty. In these circumstances, our peoples said “enough!” and embarked on a new path, resisting at first, and then going on the offensive, making possible the victory of left or centre-left presidential candidates on the back of anti-neoliberal programs.

Faced with the evident failure of neoliberalism as it was being applied, there emerged the following dilemma: or the neoliberal capitalist model is rebuilt, or advances are made in constructing an alternative project motivated by a humanist and solidarity-based logic. And as we said before, it was Chávez who had the audacity to take this second path and I believe President Maduro is trying to continue with his legacy. Other leaders such as Evo Morales and Rafael Correa later followed him. All of them are conscious of the fact that the objective economic and cultural conditions, and the existing correlation of forces at a global and national level, obliges them to co-exist for a long time with capitalist forms of production.

Operating against neoliberalism under capitalism
And I say audacity because these governments confront a very complex and difficult situation. They not only have to confront backward economic conditions but also the fact that they still do not have complete state power. And they have to do it on the basis of an inherited state apparatus whose characteristics are functional to the capitalist system, but are not suitable for advancing toward socialism.

Nevertheless, practice has demonstrated, contrary to the theoretical dogmatism of some sectors of the radical left, that if revolutionary cadres run this apparatus, it can be used as an instrument in the process of building the new society.

But we must be clear, this does not mean that the cadres can simply limit themselves to using the inherited state, it is necessary to – using the power in their hands – go about building the foundations of the new political system and new institutions, creating spaces for popular participation that can help prepare the people to exercize power from the most simple to the most complex level.

This process of transformation from government is not only a long process but also a process full of challenges and difficulties. Nothing ensures that it will be a linear process; there is always the possibility of retreats and failures.

We should always remember that the right only respects the rules of the game as long as it suits their purposes. They can perfectly tolerate and even help bring a left government to power if that government implements the right's policies and limits itself to managing the crisis. What they will always try to prevent, by legal or illegal means – and we should have no illusions about this – is a program of deep democratic and popular transformations that puts into question their economic interests.

Right-wing opposition is diverse
We can deduce from this that these governments and the left must be prepared to confront fierce resistance; they must be capable of defending the achievements they have won democratically against forces that speak about democracy as long as their material interests and privileges are not touched. Was it not the case here in Venezuela that the enabling laws, which only slightly impinged on these privileges, was the main factor in unleashing a process that culminated in a military coup supported by right-wing opposition parties against a democratically elected president, supported by his people?

It is also important to understand that this dominant elite does not represent the entire opposition. It is vital that we differentiate between a destructive, conspiratorial, anti-democratic opposition and a constructive opposition that is willing to respect the rule of the democratic game and collaborate in many tasks that are of common interests. In this way we avoid putting all opposition forces and personalities in the same basket. Being capable of recognising the positive initiatives that the opposition promotes and not condemning a-prior everything they suggest will, I believe, help us win over many sectors that today are not on our side. Perhaps not the elite leaders, but the middle cadres and broad sections of the people influences by them, which is the most important.

Pedagogy vs verbal attacks
Furthermore, I think that we would gain much more by combating their erroneous ideas and mistaken proposals with arguments rather than verbal attacks. Perhaps the latter are well received among the most radicalized popular sectors, but they are generally rejected by broad middle class sectors and also many popular sectors.

Another important change these governments face is the need to overcome the inherited culture that exists within the people, but not only among them. It also persists among government cadres, functionaries, party leaders and militants, workers and their trade union leaderships. I'm talking about traits such as individualism, personalism, political careerism, consumerism.

Moreover, advances come at a slow pace and confronted with this, many leftists tend to become demoralized. Many of them saw the capture of governmental power as a magic bullet that could quickly solve the most pressing needs of the people. When solutions are not rapidly forthcoming, disillusionment sets in.

That is why I believe that, just as our revolutionary leaders need to use the state in order to change the inherited balance of forces, they must also carry out a pedagogical task when they are confronted with limits or brakes along the path – what I call pedagogy of limitations. Many times we believe that talking about difficulties will only demoralize and dishearten the people, when, on the contrary, if our popular sectors are kept informed, are explained why it is not possible to immediately achieve the desired goals, this can help them better understand the process in which they find themselves in and moderate their demands. Intellectuals as well should be widely informed so they are able to defend the process and also to criticize it if necessary.

But this pedagogy of limitations must be simultaneously accompanied by the fomentation of popular mobilizations and creativity, thereby avoiding the possibility that initiatives from the people become domesticated and prepare us to accept criticisms of possible faults within the government. Not only should popular pressure be tolerated, it should be understood that it is necessary to helping those in government combat errors and deviations that can emerge along the way.

Taking steps towards socialism
I feel a sense of frustration not being able to talk about so many other issues, but I need to finish up, and to do so I want to read out some of the various questions that I pose in the book, and which I believe can help us evaluate whether or not the most advanced governments I have referred to are taking steps toward building a new socialist society:

• Do they mobilize workers and the people in general to carry out certain measures and are they contributing to an increase in their abilities and power?
• Do they understand the need for an organized, politicized people, one able to exercize the necessary pressure that can weaken the state apparatus and power they inherited and thus drive forward the proposed transformation process?
• Do they understand that our people must be protagonists and not supporting actors?
• Do they listen to the people and let them speak?
• Do they understand that they can rely on them to fight the errors and deviations that come up along the way?
• Do they give them resources and call on them to exercize social control over the process?

To sum up, are they contributing to the creation of a popular subject that is increasingly the protagonist, assuming governmental responsibilities?

Open national discussion of issues
In this regard, I believe the proposal to open up a national discussion that includes all social sectors in the country over the issue of the price of petrol is of transcendental importance. I believe it is transcendental because it is calling on the people, not the party, to discuss this issue. I believe the role of the party should be to fully involve itself in the discussion as an instrument for facilitating the debate.

I would like to finish up by insisting in something I never tire of repeating:

“In order to successfully advance in this challenge, we need a new culture on the left: a pluralist and tolerant culture that puts first what unites us and leaves as secondary what divides us; that promotes a unity based on values such as solidarity, humanism, respect for differences, defence of nature, rejection of the desire for profit and the laws of the market as guiding principles for human activity.”

Building a left that convinces rather than imposes
A left that understands that radicalism is not about raising the most radical slogans nor taking the most radical actions, which only a few follow because the majority are scared off by them. Instead, it is about being capable of creating spaces for coming together and for struggle, that bring in broader sectors, because realizing that there are many of us in the same struggle is what makes us strong and radicalizes us.

A left that understands that we have to win hegemony, that is, that we have to convince rather than impose.
A left that understands that what we do together in the future is more important than what we may have done in the past.

This speech was translated by Federico Fuentes, first published by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.