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(en) Venezuela, Alt. Media, Beyond Populism: Venezuela and the International Left

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 23 Aug 2004 12:55:16 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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All over the world, the international Left -- including the global
social justice movement -- is peering sceptically at Venezuela, unsure
of what to make of President Hugo Chavez' alleged democratic revolution.
Is Chavez the next Allende? Is the 'Bolivarian revolution'
really revolutionary? Is it anti-capitalist? Or does he merely
represent another chimera in a long line of populists who rile up
the masses with rousing condemnations of US Imperialism, only
to quietly cut deals with international capital?
Hesitation, wariness, doubts -- these feelings are
understandable; the Left has been taken in before by Latin
America's infamous, ephemeral caudillo. But it is wrong to
merely lump Chavez in with that sordid history of
pseudo-revolutionaries. Yet placing him in Allende's lineage is
not entirely accurate either. Chavez is, after all, not exactly
socialist. He hasn't even nationalized anything (yet). But the
relevance of the Venezuelan experience to the Left is

Something is happening in Venezuela that should inspire
progressives everywhere, and it is the responsibility of the Left to
learn from this experience -- and more than that -- to ensure that
it is not extinguished before it has a chance to catch.

At this key and contested juncture in Latin American history,
the Bolivarian revolution has been leading the regional struggle
against neoliberalism, including the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA); it has been fomenting regional cooperation;
and developing elements of a hopeful model of participatory

Venezuela's leadership has been based on a serious alternative
model of democratic development, backed by a politicized and
well-organized alliance between grassroots organizations and the
executive of the state.

Since Venezuela's 'democracy' was born in 1958 the political
system has been dominated by Accion Democratica
(AD-social-democratic) and Copei (social-christian)-essentially a
two-party polyarchy that kept oil-rents circulating in elite circles.
But by the 1990s corruption and unpopular structural adjustment
programs led to a nationwide rejection of traditional politics and
opened a space for an alternative political movement. Hugo
Chavez, a former paratrooper, filled the void with a radical
critique of the old politics, and a new constitution aimed at
profoundly transforming the economic, political, and social
organization of Venezuelan society. Chavez won the presidential
elections in 1998 and again in 2000 with over 50 per cent of the
vote, and his movement has since won a series of elections,
plebiscites and referenda.

Anti-Neoliberal Article 73 of the Constitution obliges the state
to keep its citizens informed about the implications of issues
under negotiation in the FTAA."

It states that, "International treaties, conventions, and
agreements that could compromise national sovereignty or
transfer power to supranational entities shall be submitted to
referendum." This position on the FTAA is more than
xenophobia, more than casual resistance to US influence, more,
even, than

anti-neoliberal: it is democratic. In attempting to foster a viable
challenge to US-led neoliberalism, the Bolivarian revolution has
developed a broad, participatory democratic model that includes
economic and social rights as well as the goal of a complete
redefinition of political rights. Venezuela's unusual combination
of oil wealth and the considerable support for the revolution
within the military has allowed it to limit the degree of its
dependence on international financial institutions and the US.

The Revolution on the Ground Unlike the populist caudillos
who promised, and occasionally actually did things for the
working poor, Chavez' emphasis and commitment have been to
providing support and resources for developing their
organizational capacities.

One of the most interesting examples of this revolutionary
redefinition of democracy is the funding of community
organizations such as the Organizaciones Comunitario Viviendo
(OCVs-Community Living

Organizations) -- the most local level of a network of
community, district, and municipal organizations at the centre of
the Bolivarian revolution's project of decentralization. These
OCVs are made up of one member from a maximum of 30
families who allocate funding received from the municipality
(and ultimately from the state oil company PDVSA) according to
their needs.

Autonomous decision-making at the community level and the
broader movement towards decentralization have combined with
access to free education, childcare and health-care to politicize
many Venezuelan communities, providing them with the
impetus and the ability to lay the foundation for a more profound,
long-term revolutionary transformation.

Free educational projects now provide education from basic
literacy to university-level in classrooms located in poor areas all
over the country. Free childcare facilities are coming to more and
more communities, extending the right to education to
overwhelmed parents. A similar project known as 'Barrio
Adentro' (Inside the Neighbourhood) uses Cuban doctors to
provide primary health-care in some of Venezuela's poorest and
most inaccessible hillside barrios.

Yet it is difficult to completely transform political, economic
and social relations overnight -- especially in a country with so
much wealth at stake. Many elements of the old state remain,
and a forty-year tradition of bureaucratic corruption will not
disappear quietly. At root is the fact that Venezuela remains a
capitalist state and state structures remain oriented towards the
global economy, rather than towards extending and applying
Venezuelan democracy to the economy.

Compounding these internal limitations is the Venezuelan
opposition, at core the old elite, who remain in control of
production and of the media.

Internal and External Opposition Domestic opposition to
Chavez comes for the most part from the old ruling elite, and
their reach is considerable: many white collar workers in the state
oil company (PDVSA); media magnates controlling all
mainstream private television and most print media; and
big-business interests in oil, finance, and industry. But a key
element of the opposition also comes from the middle class-the
journalists, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals who have
been turned off the Bolivarian revolution mostly due to economic
policies that have benefited the 80 per cent of the population
living in poverty, at the expense of the middle- and

The same disenchantment with traditional politics that
brought Chavez to power in 1998 dealt such a blow to AD and
Copei that they did not even field candidates. Six years later they
have begun to recover and represent the foundation of the
Coordinadora Democratica-a political body lumping together the
fractious, chaotic mish-mash of 'anti-chavists' who form a large
part of 'the opposition'. The political campaign to topple Chavez
is being waged on several fronts:

extra-legal/violent, legal/political, and the all-important realm
of public opinion. The most striking example of the
extra-legal/violent strategy was the briefly successful coup of
April 11, 2002, reversed 48 hours later by the alliance of loyal
elements in the Military and the determined support of millions
of Venezuelans who gathered outside the Presidential palace to
demand Chavez's return.

The legal/political route has only been considered recently,
and in the face of the failure of violent, extra-legal means. It
centres around a recall referendum scheduled for August 15,
2004. Arguably the most important, and certainly the most
international, aspect of opposition to Chavez is the battle is being
waged predominantly in the mainstream media -- joined
regularly by certain human rights groups -- often outweighing
their commitment to objective-reporting.

These news organizations, while pretending to objectivity,
actually held meetings of the coup conspirators in news stations
and private residences of reporters and station owners prior to the

International print and television media are also guilty of
employing active members of the Venezuelan opposition as
correspondents. It is on this last front that many believe the battle
for Venezuela will be lost; for, even many on the Left appear to
have been dissuaded from taking much interest in Venezuela by
the constant barrage of misreportage.

A Space for the Left Whatever the limitations and flaws of
Venezuela's revolutionary process, activists in the 'North' have a
responsibility to participate, criticize, advise, and agitate. Two
main areas demand the Left's attention: international policies

(against) Venezuela; and contributions to the movement itself.

The Canadian government's differences with the U.S. on Iraq
did not signal a fundamental break in their relationship. In fact,
since the tensions over Iraq, the Canadian government has been
bending over backwards to confirm its place within the American
empire. This was evident in Haiti, and it continues to be so as the
Canadian government toes the OAS line on Venezuela. The OAS
being what it is -- a cosmetic front for U.S.

meddling -- Canada is partly responsible for the reactionary
role the OAS has played to date in Venezuela. It is for the
Canadian Left to make this an issue in Canada, to force the
government to defend its position and the hardly objective role of
the OAS to the Canadian public.

However, in the final analysis what is missing most in
Venezuela is the kind of international solidarity that those
fighting from below deserve. More than anything, it is up to the
Left to realize that there is a uniquely significant social, political,
economic-humanist revolution at stake in Venezuela. And it is
up to us to commit to participating, criticizing, and supporting
the Venezuelan revolution in order to ensure that it is not
extinguished by the machinations of the U.S., that it does not
disappear from Left consciousness before it has even arrived.
ZNet, Venezuela, by Jonah Gindin

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