Venezuela's People First Policies

The contrast between the calls from a wealthy bible basher to assassinate Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and the south American country's people-first policies in the region and beyond could not be larger.

By Charley Allan - Morning Star
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SO, US televangelist Pat Robertson has ordered his million-strong "brownshirt" army to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

This powerful Bush ally, who sells "miracles" on live TV to people who really believe that he has a hot-line to God, may just be protecting his turf - after all, the Venezuelan president has just announced on his own television show that he, too, will helping the blind see again, only for free.

Mission Miracle is a new social programme which sends poor Venezuelans to Cuba for sight-restoring eye operations.

It has been tremendously successful and Chavez recently announced that it will be extended to countries across the hemisphere, including the US.

What this means is that poor north Americans without health care will be able to fly, at Venezuela’s expense, to Cuba - probably via Venezuela, as the Bush regime has drastically increased the penalties for US citizens who visit Cuba - where they will receive surgery from Cuban doctors. They can be accompanied by a relative or friend, also for free.

More proof that the Venezuelan administration genuinely believes in global revolution comes in the form of his offer to provide cheap oil to poor US communities, primarily for heating fuel during the winter.

Up to half of the skyrocketing price of oil goes to profit-hungry middle men, according to Chavez, and he wants to deal directly with the consumer.

Venezuela already owns a chain of petrol stations and refineries across the US, called CITGO, which could be used to implement such a scheme

. Chavez has even offered to sell cheap oil directly to progressive groups in the US, such as the Black Caucus.

Venezuela was the first country to offer aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, though Chavez criticised US evacuation plans as far worse than those in Cuba.

CITGO pledged $1 million and gave food and shelter to 2,000 residents of Louisiana in one of its refineries there.

Two mobile hospital units have also been promised by Venezuela, as well as rescue specialists, generators, water purifiers and 50 tonnes of canned food.

The US government hasn’t yet accepted this generous offer, instead telling people to give money to the Red Cross, as well as to a charity named Operation Blessing via the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tellingly enough, Operation Blessing is run by Pat Robertson and is being investigated for allegedly transporting diamond-mining equipment to Africa instead of medical supplies, which was what it fundraised millions of dollars for.

While the rich in Venezuela complain that Chavez is wasting "their" money on foreigners, supporters of this country’s peaceful and democratic revolution

- especially those living in poor neighbourhoods (barrios) - see this as an essential element of foreign policy, building solidarity with primarily poor people deep inside the US empire.

The problems of poverty and lack of health care, education, social security and dignified employment affect people all over the world and the solutions have to be global also. Bolivarian socialism, the new political philosophy of the Venezuelan masses, may hold some of the answers.

At its heart, Bolivarian socialism aims to redistribute power to the poor people and to include them in the decision-making of their own country.

Free universal education and health-care are crucial to achieving this, but they are not enough on their own to bring about true equality.

In some ways, the most revolutionary aspect of the political process here has been the rapid growth of the co-operative movement and the establishment of hundreds of "endogenous nuclei" across the country. Mission Vuelvan Caras, another of the numerous new social programmes in Venezuela, is responsible for co-ordinating and developing this movement of workers’

power.

An endogenous nucleus is a community in which there exist several co-ops working together, making products or offering services that complement and co-operate with each other. For example, when farming, trucking and kitchen co-ops establish links like this, they become a secondary co-op.

These can then provide products, services and education to the community, strengthening their democratic and inclusive nature and unlocking the potential of the people, the community, the country and even the hemisphere itself.

Economic liberation is only a part of this - more important, according to one Vuelvan Caras worker, is "changing the way we see ourselves and other people."

Co-ops are revolutionary because they allow workers to own and manage the means of production.

The government provides start-up microcredits to enable the purchase of equipment or office space, gives training and education if necessary and helps to find markets and customers for the co-op to sell to.

As the movement grows stronger, government resources should become less necessary and an entirely new, self-sufficient economic system will co-exist with and then eventually replace the capitalist, profit-driven machine which currently dominates the world.

The fact that the co-operative model can be exported to any other country makes it a credible threat to the corporate empire, as workers across the planet realise that they can run their businesses better than their bosses did and take inspiration from the self-empowerment of the Venezuelan people.

Another key element of Bolivarian socialism is the nationalisation of failed and bankrupt corporate industry.

Paper and oil-valve factories are two examples of this and Chavez has said that any more companies that go under will be taken over and run by the workers themselves.

Another popular concept being implemented is that of co-management, whereby workers have the right to be part of the decision-making process and are given real powers - for example, to set some of their own budgets.

Although not as radical as the entirely worker-owned and managed model, this is a big step towards a democratic economy and far more logical than the government expropriation of productive private industry.

One of the most profound aspects of all this is how the Venezuelan people are now debating what socialism really means and the ways in which their vision differs from previous interpretations in countries such as Russia, China and even their close ally Cuba.

The constitution establishes that the state should be "decentralised." This is important in respect to decisions being taken at a local level, rather than by privileged cliques at the top of hierarchical political power structures.

The Bolivarian movement’s grass-roots activists are very conscious of this ongoing struggle and protests against their own elected representatives - even Bolivarian ones - are not uncommon, as is the sense that their only defence against corruption is popular participation and pressure from below.

There is also a debate between the "libertarian" and "authoritarian"

tendencies within socialism. Venezuela is, in fact, quite a libertarian country. For example, driving without seatbelts or crash-helmets, through red lights and even under the influence of alcohol, is not particularly frowned upon, though they are all illegal.

Graffiti and murals are everywhere and protesters will often bring out a spray-can during demos to scrawl spontaneous slogans on street walls.

The government even came close to decriminalising personal-use quantities of drugs, though this legislation was stalled and then defeated at the national assembly.

There are currently very harsh penalties for any kind of drug use and the police generally see this as a way of extorting money from careless and unlucky tourists.

Although it is easy money for the cops, there seems to be a rather half-hearted aspect to their shake-downs, perhaps because of the contradiction between this and their job of fighting - often very serious - crime.

It is openly and commonly said that many policemen here are extremely corrupt and, since the US-backed coup of 2002 they are seen by many Venezuelans simply as puppets of Uncle Sam.

Soldiers, however, are much more respected and are genuinely regarded as being on the side of the people.

The collaboration with the communities of the military rank-and-file against the coup and bosses’ lockout later the same year, as well as their role in facilitating many of the social programmes throughout the barrios, has brought about a new civil-military alliance that will make any further coup or sabotage attempt much more difficult.

The rich and powerful opposition to Chavez, however, are not giving up without a fight. From provoking conflict in the streets, to their leaders meeting with Bush in the White House, they are planning something big, probably around the next general election in December 2006.

Many of the middle class have completely bought into the idea of Chavez-the-demon, a madman who is hell-bent on taking their homes and cars away from them.

This is exactly the line that the private media have been selling since he was first elected and the irrational hatred is part of what is stopping Venezuela from healing itself.

On the Bolivarian side, there is still deep resentment of the coup-massacre and lockout-sabotage that the middle-class helped to facilitate, perhaps unwittingly.

If there is ever to be any kind of reconciliation - although that might take a miracle - it is crucial that both sides re-evaluate what they have been taught to think about the other, change the way that they see themselves and society and make the ever-present government slogan "Venezuela: ahora es de todos (now is for all)" a reality.