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(en) Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder - Prepared by Nachie, for the Red & Anarchist Action Network (RAAN) III. (3/9)

Date Tue, 04 Jul 2006 10:09:36 +0300


8. CON EL PUEBLO TODO, CON EL PODER NADA
Corpozulia is headed up by Brig. General Carlos Martinez Mendoza,
a prime example of the FAN's "officers in suits and ties" (or red
shirts, depending on the photo opportunity) that Chávez has
recruited in his ultra-militaristic campaign to reshuffle the national
bourgeoisie in his own image. Mendoza was quoted in May of last
year admitting that the construction of Puente Padilla over Lake
Maracaibo was for the "exclusive benefit" of Colombian commerce
into the country. More generally, he has put his authoritarian
background to good use in combating the anti-carbón movement
with a fear-mongering campaign matched only by the United States
government's own "green scare". In addition, Corpozulia claims to
have done extensive research into the projects that it is about to
undertake, but as expected the investigatory commissions on the
matter were stacked with Carbozulia partners against only 2
community organizers opposed to the development.

The anti-carbón movement is ostensibly led by indigenous
activists, though a university professor named Lusbi Portillo - who
coordinates the environmental group Homeo et Natura - is more or
less in control of the contacts between Wayuú organizers and the
movements in solidarity with them. Also involved are the groups
Amigransa (Friends of the Gran Sabana) and Red Petrolera -
Oilwatch Orinoco, which in 2005 published an important book,
Chevron: Right Hand of the Empire. Also at the front lines in terms
of publicizing the arguments against coal exploitation is the
country's long-running green magazine Era Ecologica. These groups
are involved primarily over environmental concerns, whereas Portillo
himself is of the opinion that the anti-coal campaign cannot be
successful unless it is able to tie up the immediate issue of
indigenous and ecological survival with the greater neo-liberal
scheme of IIRSA; to present a more comprehensive critique that
takes into account the construction of Puerto Bolívar, among other
factors. From a tactical standpoint, it seems the only way to
transcend the disdain towards the ecologismo del Norte is by
connecting the issue to broader concerns of sovereignty and the
ultimate construction (or betrayal) of the "Socialism of the XXI
Century". Additionally, the tribes are particularly opposed to turning
anti-carbón into a "human rights" campaign with themselves at the
center, since such a move would likely only give the United States
more fodder in its attacks against Chávez.

In response to these groups' attempts at raising awareness on this
life-or-death issue, Corpozulia has gone on a propaganda offensive
aimed at totally destroying the credibility of the environmental
organizations and galvanizing Chavista support against those who
would seek to derail the country's "revolutionary strategy" for
modern development. It should come as no surprise that Carbozulia
publishes its own newspaper Carboinforma, often featuring a
cheerful cartoon character "Coalie", who tells kids about how great
coal mining is and what wonders it will work for the nation. On the
not-so-cute side, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has openly (and
obviously, without substantiation) called Lusbi Portillo a "terrorist"
in the pages of that publication. They are also quite taken to referring
to any anti-coal sentiment as coming from a shadowy "Mafia Verde"
(Green Mafia) supposedly funded by the CIA. This is serious.

Last year, Mendoza was able to turn an indigenous Earth Day march
on Corpozulia's headquarters into a PR stunt by paying coal truckers
and other government workers to turn out in a "completely
spontaneous" pro-carbón counter-demonstration complete with
police escort and professional sound equipment. These tactics are
reminiscent of Chávez' own methods for conjuring mass rallies out
of thin air in Caracas, including giving state employees a paid day off
and free lunch to attend the event. Often, the authorities can bus in
these recruits from out of town. In Corpozulia's case, the intent was
to sow divisions between coal workers and the indigenous
movement and cast the latter as golpistas trying to disrupt the
nation's Revolutionary Process.

Venezuelans live under a siege mentality, and after the failed 2002
coup and subsequent economic sabotage campaigns, no one can
possibly blame them. As I mentioned, the chief legacy of the paro
petrolero has been to associate anyone who is opposed to the normal
functioning of PDVSA with the coup plotters, and since there is not
exactly a lack of precedent for US military interventions in the
region, this game of loyalties can be played with high stakes and
offers Chavismo an incredibly effective way to publicly denounce
anyone who might criticize the way the energy industry is being run.
The culture of defending PDVSA's "sovereignty" at all costs is
hammered in continuously over the course of all Bolivarian
propaganda, both through playing up fears of a Yankee invasion and
the constant reminder that all of the Revolution's social programs
(relatively inadequate as they are) are being provided by the oil giant,
which was irreversibly "retaken" by the workers during the paro and
is now considered to be "one" with the Venezuelan people...

Meanwhile, in the North we have only just begun to see a massive
pro-carbón corporate advertising campaign aimed at promoting coal
as a "clean, sustainable" energy alternative for the future.
Considering what a wonderful supply of it they just locked down in
Venezuela and Colombia, this should come as no surprise. And
given that a Rutgers team in collaboration with researchers from the
University of North Carolina has in the past month discovered a
method for turning coal into diesel fuel, we should be prepared to see
a worldwide surge in the amount of attention paid to coal mining,
and hopefully a comparable rise in the militancy of movements
against it.

Fortunately, it is not only the corporate side of the issue that has
been able to publish its views on the matter, though obviously theirs
have had the broader distribution. The anti-carbón organizations
and publications named above have all sought to keep a spotlight on
the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Zulia, and in particular the
only national anarchist periodical El Libertario has for years shown a
single-minded determination to press for this issue as the most
important point of intervention for anti-authoritarians in the
country's current social struggles. This is important, since only a
truly radical anti-capitalist critique is capable of exposing IIRSA and
the wider issue, which is the imposition of a foreign mode of
consumption upon the people of Zulia and Venezuela as a whole.

In Maracaibo, the anarchists have been active through the Union of
Alternative Collectives, (UCA) a more or less broad coalition of
groups working to stop local expansion in the coal industry, and the
genocide and destruction it would entail. The indigenous movement
has already tried everything from mass propaganda to street art and
mural campaigns to make their struggle known, and through all this
the anarchists have remained their most reliable foot soldiers. To a
degree this has been a shaky marriage, as the tribes consider
themselves to be Chavistas and Lusbi Portillo in particular has
remained untrusting of an alliance with libertarian groups despite the
fact that only they are willing or capable of expanding on his
systemic critique against IIRSA and the energy industry. From the
side of the anarchists, working with Chavistas has been a major
ideological leap that probably wouldn't have occurred had this not
been an indigenous movement over indigenous land, in which the
tribes involved must of course be given the ultimate overall tactical
command of the campaign. The Wayuú, Yukpa, Barí, and
Japreria are at this stage advancing the strategy of trying to use the
new Constitution to stop the open pit mining, calling themselves
Chavistas not only out of genuine affinity for the Bolivarian
Revolution but also with the calculation that they will have more
success in identifying themselves as also being "part of the process",
albeit the cost of it.

For North Americans, awareness of the anti-carbón movement
began with Christian Guerrero's article "What's so Revolutionary
About Venezuelan Coal?" in the July-August 2005 issue of the Earth
First! Journal (to their credit, this publication was also on top of
reporting on the Pémon struggles in 2002). The article went a
long way in proposing a global alliance between the Zulia campaign
and other anti-coal activists who are often combating the same
companies in different parts of the world, and this will inevitably
form the backbone of any substantial international solidarity
movement to combat what Chávez intends for the people of the
Sierra del Perijá.

And yet ironically enough, our best tool for consciousness-raising
and organization against IIRSA was commissioned by the
Venezuelan state itself. Two years ago, Italian filmmakers Elisabetta
Andreoli, Gabriele Muzio, Sara Muzio, and Max Paugh were
approached by the National Council of Culture (CONAC) to film a
documentary covering the Venezuelan oil industry and Bolivarian
Process. The filmmakers were already well known for their works
Another Way is Possible... in Venezuela, (2002) How Bush Won the
Elections (in Ecuador), (2003) and Bolivia is Not for Sale (2004).
Undoubtedly, what CONAC had in mind was another fluffy,
feelgood "left-wing" (and of course, unreservedly pro-Chávez)
documentary along the lines of The Revolution Will Not Be
Televised, which could be easily exported towards the growth of an
international "Venezuelan Solidarity" movement that Chavismo has
long been carefully grooming in its own image.

Unfortunately for them, the final product, titled Nuestro Petróleo y
Otros Cuentos (Our Oil and Other Tales) turned out to a blistering
exposé of the social realities behind blind petro-populism.
Released in February of 2005, "Our Oil" was first privately screened
for a group of government ministers, after which CONAC cut all
funding (which had been 50% of the production costs) and
promotional deals, a functional blacklisting that left the directors in
serious financial trouble. This film has only recently been subtitled in
English for showing at the Alternative Social Forum in Caracas this
past January, and an active campaign to screen and distribute it
throughout North America is the first step for any international
anarchist intervention on the Venezuelan issue, as will be discussed
below.

Nuestro Petróleo begins as an exploration of the social and
ecological effects of the Venezuelan energy industry over the past
decades, and then branches out to directly tackle several of the most
pressing issues in the country today. The Wayuú mobilizations
against coal are paid significant attention, as is the severe
underutilization of Venezuela's own homegrown process for
clean(er) fuel, Orimulsion (control over which has largely passed to
the Chinese). Interviews with PDVSA employees reveal the
corruption of the labor bureaucracy and that after a few months of
self-management during the paro, old managers were reinstated and
the same hierarchies whereby the workers have no say in the actual
development of the national energy industry were put back into
place. In a particularly poignant scene, a Corpozulia executive who
had been speaking of coal as a "sustainable" energy solution is asked
by someone behind the camera, "I don't understand in what sense
this is a sustainable development?" The executive then hesitates
momentarily before admitting that he actually has no idea. The film
also pays close attention to the involvement of Chevron-Texaco as a
fundamental partner to the "revolutionary" state, regardless of its
current and historical involvement in more overtly-violent
imperialism elsewhere. The importance of this film as an
introductory tool in building the movement against IIRSA cannot be
exaggerated.

On the ground however, anti-carbón activists are facing an uphill
battle. On March 29 of last year, over one thousand indigenous
protestors and their allies traveled to Caracas to march on Miraflores
palace and get direct answers from Chávez about the final
destruction of ancestral lands that had always been denied them in
the first place. Unfortunately, at the time Chávez was meeting with
Argentine ex-soccer star-turned-cokehead-turned-political
opportunist Diego Maradona, and the mobilization was prevented
from reaching Miraflores by the National Guard. For Chávez (who
constantly plays up the fact that his own grandmother was
half-native) to deny these people audience in favor of a photo
opportunity with Maradona strikes me as being nothing less than
extremely fucked-up.

Meanwhile, the situation is already coming to a head as the
indigenous populations run out of both time and options for legal
protest. During my stay in the country we received word that the
National Guard has begun indiscriminately killing Yukpa tribesmen
and burning their shelters in Zulia (to my knowledge this has yet to
be confirmed). Angela González, a well-known Wayuú organizer
for the Zulia campaign declared in an interview with El Libertario
that "we can live without coal, but not without water". In her words,
"[These people] are not going to leave, the army will have to remove
us. Chávez says, 'damn the military that shoots its own people' and
then what? There will be blood spilled here. The Wayuú are ready
to die for these lands". She concludes, "We're going to die here
anyway because of the coal, so [why not march to] Miraflores to die
there? They'll have to kill us all."

9. MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES IN VENEZUELA

Up until this point, I have been providing the reader with a broad
overview of Venezuelan history and some of the less well-known
details of the Bolivarian regime. The second part of this text will be
reflecting on my own travels in the country and the dialogues I
participated in with a variety of different political and cultural groups.
I'm hoping that by having introduced the context in such a way, my
analysis of the on-the-ground situation will be made much more
informative. To some extent I have tried to present the following
accounts in a chronologically accurate manner, excepting where that
would have made it impossible to effectively present the information
in question. Towards these ends I have in some cases sacrificed the
"narrational flow" of the text from chapter to chapter, and I hope that
the reader will bear with me. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, what
follows is nothing more than my own personal take on what I saw
and learned.

So that it will not be necessary to repeat myself throughout the
following pages, I would also like to say that almost without
exception, everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly, engaging, and
interested in my own views as well as sharing their own. This goes
beyond traditional Latin hospitality and is indicative of the fact that
the Bolivarian Revolution is at all times seen as a societal dialogue in
which it is necessary for ordinary people to continuously rearticulate
their vision of what is happening around them and what role they
have to play in it. The best way to describe this is as Narco News
journalist Al Giordano did during an interview with the San
Francisco Independent Media Center in late 2002: by using the
autonomist Marxist term "self-valorization". Self-valorization refers
to the working class' psychological - and eventually, economic -
evolution towards conceiving of themselves as "[their] own subject
and no longer the object of the ruling elite". Giordano compared the
mood of the Venezuelan masses after the overturning of the April
coup directly to the self-valorization he had witnessed at Zapatista
communities in Chiapas. This shift in mass-consciousness and
perception can only be experienced, not described, and is confined
neither to Chavismo nor to Venezuela itself, but is representative of
the enormous global upheavals through which we are living in this
epoch - the most advanced expressions of which are at this point
concentrated to some degree in South America.

I must be clear: despite my adamant opposition to the idea of
Chávez as an infallible revolutionary leader and even the structure
of the state itself, it is clear that Chavismo and Bolivarian Socialism
are only indicative of a deeper process at work. There is a revolution
going on in Venezuela, and anyone with eyes should be able to see
it. Anyone with a heart would be able to sense it. The Bolivarian
Revolution is simply the (political/institutional) reaction to the
Venezuelan [and developing World] revolution, not the other way
around.

10. FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I arrived in Caracas several days before the kickoff of the sixth
("Polycentric") World Social Forum (WSF) and second Social
Forum of the Americas in order to get an idea of how the capital
looked before the grand spectacle began. My first impressions were
of a city more or less like any other in South America - bustling
activity in all directions, ample litter and other pollution, and very
little overt indication of any revolution whatsoever. Various
businesses function as usual and billboards still dot the skyline,
which itself is inevitably dominated by a few large banking firms and,
in the distance, the endless hillside barrios that surround this
mountain city - proof that despite everything the old oligarchy
complains about, fundamental change is still a long way off.

Socialist and Chavista graffiti prevails over any traditional tags, and
multiple government-funded murals recalling that decrepit
celebration from the days of Stalinism, the World Festival of
Students and Youth (held in Caracas last summer) provided frequent
warnings against an impending US invasion; before long these
would be outshone by new paintings commemorating the WSF.
Practically every underpass is painted with the enormous faces of
Simón Bolívar and other independence heroes, or propaganda
from the city government proclaiming that "With you, Caracas has
decided to change" (an anti-litter campaign) or "Con Chávez, un
solo gobierno" (which simply means that the city mayor is in alliance
with Chávez, but also carries the double meaning of "only one
government"). On some of the main streets, I saw literally hundreds
of stencils declaring, "Chávez is the people."

Large banners positioned throughout the city depict Chávez as
often as possible, usually alongside slogans such as "the people
march forward with their comandante," or quotes from his televised
surrender in 1992 like, "Before all the Venezuelan people, I accept
responsibility for this military Bolivarian movement".

As in many countries outside the US, even mainstream political
parties engage in massive postering and wheatpaste campaigns
around campaign time. The newest ones I saw were from the
elections to the National Assembly late last year, where an
opposition boycott was used to mask more widespread voter
disillusionment and the various Chavista parties (collectively referred
to as "officialist") gained full control of congress. Almost all of these
posters, which generally belonged to candidates of the MVR, PCV,
PODEMOS, PPT, UVE, (Union of Electoral Victors, the symbol of
which is designed to recall that of the MVR) or some combination of
the above, serve as interesting lessons in the county's politics.
Because the officialist parties can rarely agree on anything except
supporting Chávez, and the voters themselves are only interested in
Chávez, many of the posters and accompanying political
campaigns are designed in such a way as to reinforce the idea that
the candidate in question is "more Chavista" than anyone else. It's a
running joke that in order to get elected, all you need is a photo of
yourself shaking Chávez' hand, but it's actually the truth. One
candidate in particular had a larger picture of Chávez on his poster
than he did of himself! My favorite campaign slogan? "Guarantee of
Chavismo and Revolution".

This massive opportunism is at the heart of the electoral aspect of
Bolivarianism and the creation of a new "Boli-bourgeoisie", and has
yet to be significantly challenged by Chávez due to the fact that
without it, he would have no political support base.

11. REVOLUCIÓN EN LA REVOLUCIÓN

My first encounter with an organized revolutionary group in Caracas
happened practically by accident - I was walking down Bolívar
Avenue on my first day there, trying to get my bearings in this new
city when I noticed a sort of encampment on the sidewalk of a major
intersection, complete with a small PA blaring traditional folk music.
The huge, hand-painted banners that hung from chain link fences
around the large group cried for a "revolution within the revolution",
and finding myself quite well disposed to such a sentiment, I walked
over to see what they were all about.

In the Bolivarian vernacular, "revolution in the revolution" refers to
that constant re-articulation of the process, and an awareness that it
is perpetually undergoing change and finding new ways to overcome
the limits imposed on it by bourgeois democracy. Leninists have
tended to use it in describing a "profundization" of Bolivarian
Socialism through the election of more "radical" (that is, Bolshevik)
leaders, or the ascendence of such personalities within bodies like
the MVR and trade unions. For most Venezuelans however,
"revolution in the revolution" means nothing less than pushing for
the total dismantling of the present economy and political classes,
"Chavistas" or otherwise.

The group who's banners I had been reading turned out to be the
Gonzalo Loreno Collective of the Partido Nuestramerica, from the
Movement 13 April. They were a "nomad" collective, meaning an
organized body comprised of the street vendors who make up at least
half of the total Venezuelan workforce. These informal economists
sell everything from sweets to cheap electronics to nail clippers to
Puma knockoff clothing to plastic balls to pirated DVDs, are
notoriously hard to "unionize", and can be found practically
everywhere in the country. To some extent the government has tried
to reorganize them into certain "Bolivarian Markets", but they
continue to be particularly concentrated in the main areas of urban
traffic. While often times this type of vocation can prove to be a
self-contained and "apolitical" family affair, the Gonzalo Loreno
Collective seemed to be a particularly diverse community group of
people who traveled and sold their wares together - though in
practice it was only the older men who spoke to me or offered their
political viewpoints, often while keeping an eye on their own
merchandise or children out on the sidewalk.

Before delving deeper into the collective's ideology, I think it bears
repeating: At least half of the national proletariat survives through
the informal economy. It is important to keep in mind this fact of
Venezuela's class composition, as it is the key to understanding why
one cannot speak of a truly national mass workers' organization in
the vanguardist sense (not that you can anywhere else, either). The
much-vaunted officialist UNT, (National Union of Workers) which
was set up in April of 2003 in response to the collaboration of the old
CTV (Confederation of Workers of Venezuela) with the bosses'
lockout, is certainly doing the bulk of the labor organizing in the
country, but even their efforts are limited in scope and have stalled
over infighting, negotiations dealing with how exactly to make the
union as participative as possible, and a lack of follow-through on
the militant tactics such as factory occupations that they were
supposedly to be advancing.

The Loreno Collective members were incredibly articulate in their
views on the present state of Venezuelan society and I found myself
in full agreement with them. We ended up discussing various
practical and theoretical questions for hours, including an
on-the-spot translation of the Red & Anarchist Action Network's
Principles & Direction, which they were very interested in and
reacted very positively to. Overall I left with the feeling that if their
opinions were at all representative of the Venezuelan masses, the
revolution was in very good hands. Their own literature, a
bare-bones series of photocopied pages calling for a "bloc of
permanent and revindicative social struggles" demonstrated an
incredibly advanced consciousness that - as usual - surpasses that of
most self-righteous hobbyist activists.

The "nomads" self-identify as lumpen-proletariat, which in the
Venezuelan context is a totally unique demographic without a
classically identifiable political culture. The lumpen define
themselves through the nomadic way of life and method of economy
creation by and for the excluded classes (self-valorization through
dual power). They point out that the lumpen will ultimately direct
the politics of the street because it is they who have continually
focused their actions towards the negation of a state in which they
have no part; the lumpen "builds in the street a counter state, a
'non-state' that opposes the state which negates it". They are quick
to point out that during the December 2002 paro petrolero, the
economy survived wherever the lumpen were taking active part.
They were also openly hostile to what they called the derecha roja -
(red fascists) the Leninists and Social Democratic politicians who
have recast themselves as revolutionaries under Chávez' banner of
Bolivarian Socialism. The collective mocked the suburb-like
"dignified housing" construction developments of the government
and proposed a general redistribution of land and resources with
which they could build their own dignified housing, but, "for real,
without filters, without the revolting guises of the derecha roja".
"Unlike the enlightened vanguards and those who would wish to be
professional revolutionaries," they explained, "we fundamentally
dedicate ourselves to sharing and constructing conceptual or
methodological tools with the people of these nomadic communities
to which we belong". Encouragingly, their literature also mentioned
the need to build solidarity with miners, "who via the politics of the
state are displacing [the lumpen and campesinos] simultaneously
from their lands and ways of life."

The group's direct focus on the concept of dual power, or
sustainable and combative alternative (anti-)institutions, was
inspiring. Their organizing was based directly in their own everyday
experiences and put an emphasis on building resources for the
future. In many ways, they brought new inspiration to the original
influences in RAAN, and I believe that our tendency would do well
to learn from them. For instance, their organization's "immediate
themes" were defined as: Develop the political-ideological struggle
for the formation of a nomadic and communitarian social subject;
Organize autonomous projects with the methods of production
already in existence; Build social intelligence networks; Define the
politics of the street and the character of this tactical and strategic
alliance.

12. EL CENTRO ENDÓGENO FABRICIO OJEDA

Those who visits Venezuela with any type of political agenda in
these times, and particularly those who embark on any number of
"revolutionary tourism" experiences offered by the government and
its allied social movements for the benefit of international leftist
groups in awe of Chávez, can tell you that the first things to see are
the Misiones, the various social programs extended into the barrio
by the government. Although I was hardly in Venezuela to study the
government's side of the revolution, I figured it would be a positive
experience to see these projects first hand, and was able to tag along
with a group of German activists on a guided tour of a "nucleo
endogeno", (internal nucleus) which is essentially a shopping
mall/factory/cultural center comprised of various Misiones. Although
I would come across the Misiones repeatedly during my trip, this
was my single most informative encounter.

The Nucleo de Desarrollo Endógeno "Fabricio Ojeda" is a bright
new complex built over what had been an abandoned PDVSA petrol
post, but was reclaimed under the "new PDVSA" for "social growth
and integration". Although it serves as a good example of the extent
to which unutilized resources can be put to the benefit of the
community given a shift in consciousness, it is undoubtedly also a
perfect example of how PDVSA is being elevated to the untouchable
level of national savior - "integration" is meant specifically as
integration between the surrounding community (a typical Caracas
barrio) and the state oil company. On all signs and banners, PDVSA
and the Bolivarian Government are celebrated almost as if they were
two completely separate entities.

The center's namesake Fabricio Ojeda was the president of the
Patriotic Junta that took power after the 23 de Enero 1958, but
became a guerrilla leader in the FALN after becoming disillusioned
with the government. In 1966 Ojeda was captured and shot by the
FAN. It is important to note that in pre-Bolivarian Venezuela and
practically anywhere else in the world, this is not the kind of person
who would be having public projects named after them. Thus, the
(selective) unearthing and commemoration of Venezuela's rich
history of struggle has been one of the true benefits of the Fifth
Republic.

The Nucleo is only one out of 120 of different sizes and types spread
throughout the country. As mentioned above, the idea is essentially
a grouping of all government programs into one massive cultural
center that can eventually become a starting point for urban
renewal/economic gentrification. This one was rather large - two
completed buildings, another open but under partial construction,
and fourteen left to build. The nucleus would soon feature a
restaurant and center for disability treatment to compliment its
Mercal market, Barrio Adentro, outdoor athletic facilities, and two
Vuelvan Caras factories. The design of the place itself was open and
friendly despite being a walled-in complex with a soldier on guard at
the front gate, and during our visit we saw a few people apparently
using the property as more or less of a public park. On the basketball
courts, local schoolchildren engaged in various cardio vascular
exercises. To be sure, the shiny new center was in stark contrast to
the impoverished neighborhoods surrounding it.

We received a guided tour of the facility from a PDVSA "social
relations" employee who explained that the nucleo's purpose was to
"develop each person to their own potential" by providing the
community with jobs and resources on credit from PDVSA. Despite
this focus, she explained that cultural activities and music made up
the most important aspects of the center.

Each nucleo is supposedly based on several local production
cooperatives - in this case, up to thirty - around whom the center's
functioning revolves. These cooperatives were not preexisting, and
so were in fact put into place and designed by the project, and not
vice-versa. In the case of Mision Vuelvan Caras, for instance, the
cooperatives are not unionized because, in the words of the PDVSA
guide, "they own their means of production and therefore are their
own bosses". However, everything they own was originally fronted
to them by the company, and so what inevitably results is the
creation of a total client business that would not be able to survive in
the actual market and is therefore utilized primarily as a PR tool by
PDVSA.

Mision Vuelvan Caras was implemented after the paro as a way to
promote the education of the populace in skilled labor and foster an
economy independent of the oil industry. In reality because the
startup capital for these small businesses is provided by PDVSA,
they always start off in debt to the company. The guide was open in
explaining that the government's vision of cogestion
(co-management) did not mean worker's management, but
state-capitalism. One of the Germans asked the guide if the
cooperatives were "autonomous". She looked surprised at the word
but replied, "yes of course, but they must be in accord with the
revolutionary process". She cheerfully explained that the nucleo's
directors at PDVSA definitely "take into account what the
cooperatives want in making decisions".

The two plants running in the nucleo were relatively small, probably
not employing more than two hundred people at a time. At one end
of the complex was a textiles factory, where an all-female workforce
worked under Bolivarian banners at several rows of sewing
machines. From what I saw, they were producing work overalls and
red silkscreened Hugo Chávez shirts - both of which were
undoubtedly going towards guaranteed markets within the Bolivarian
state itself. Across the way was another warehouse filled with a
relatively small shoe-making industry based around 25 industrial
machines provided by PDVSA. The shoes were uniformly black
leather, and of a pretty decent quality. A good number of them would
also be bought by the state, but the majority was bound for Cuba.

The Barrio Adentro clinic in the nucleo must have been one of the
program's "level 2" specialized centers because it was enormous,
complete with an outdoor pharmacy. It is hard to overstate the
importance for Venezuelans, particularly residents of the barrio, to
suddenly have immediate access to some form of healthcare like
this. It's unprecedented.

The last storefront we saw was Mercal, the heavily-subsidized state
supermarket chain. Not only is Mercal a way to assist communities,
it's also a method by which the state can secure control over certain
parts of the economy by ensuring markets for certain preferred
distributors. The whole process remains explicitly capitalist, with a
focus on increasing visible consumption (which has gone up) rather
than nutrition (which has gone down). Mercal has in many ways
also deepened Venezuela's dependence on imported food, but with
that said, the prices were significantly lower than any other grocery
store I encountered and I'm not going to play around like I wouldn't
be useful to have a Mercal down the street from me right now.
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