Venezuela's Bad Example

The Venezuelan political process is systematically demonized
not just by the bourgeois media but also by some supposed
progressives. They tend to focus more on the figure of
Chavez than on what that deepening social change means for
the great mass of people marginalised and oppressed since
independence from the Spanish colonial centre.

By Alberto Cruz - Tortilla del Sol
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The Venezuelan political process, that people
there describe as Bolivarian, is systematically demonized
not just by the bourgeois media but also by some supposed
progressives. They tend to focus more on the figure of
Chavez than on what that deepening social change means for
the great mass of people marginalised and oppressed since
independence from the Spanish colonial centre so as to exalt
the political, economic - and white - elite. The world is
full of cases of dubious leadership - not so Chavez,
consistently re-elected and supported by a broad swathe of
the Venezuelan people - so the great imperial power and its
allies are by no means upset when suspicions are thrown up
about the Venezuelan President.

So what is going on then?
Well, in Venezuela what is happening is nothing less than
the hard expression of a class struggle where although, for
the moment, the correlation of forces does not clearly
favour the people, at least they enjoy a self-evident
equilibrium with the oligarchy. And this struggle transcends
the country itself, something capitalists all over the world
have grasped, especially opinion makers writing out of
preconceived prejudices and stereotypes and often from a
clear class position stemming from neo-colonialist habits of
mind.

Nobody discusses whether or not the Venezuelan
process is rocking the world economic system, whether its
victory throws doubt on neo-liberal globalization or whether
- as leading US analysts like Alexander Cockburn of the
Counterpunch alternative website think - it is helping more
than anything else to undermine the world leadership of the
US. An example of this last point came in recent days during
the OPEC meeting in Riyadh (the Saudi Arabian capital). The
mere suggestion by Venezuela that the oil cartel might look
at whether the dollar should be a reference currency, given
its increasing weakness, set off alarms everywhere.

It is
since Chavez became President back in 1998 that OPEC has
become one of Venezuelan foreign policy's main concerns,
firstly, by revitalizing a declining organization and by
standardizing joint production to control the oil price per
barrel. For the US and the West in general , US$30 is
considered a correct price, without taking into account
countries' different extraction costs : from the cheapest
for Saudi Arabia to the most costly for Iran. Venezuela is
between the two, but considered that, on balance, a fair
price for everyone was above US$50.

In the second place,
Venezuela launched an internal campaign within OPEC to
democratize the Development and Cooperation Fund (worth
US$40bn) and to see that the fund did not depend exclusively
on Saudi Arabia, which consistently put the management of
that fund in the hands of US and European businesses.
Venezuela won that battle, so now not only US and European
firms manage the fund, but the OPEC countries themselves and
other non-Western bloc companies from outside the oil
cartel. One of the star projects of this new management
regime now is its focus on social problems affecting OPEC
countries, for example how to avoid desertification in the
sources of the Niger river. Moves like this have led to
Venezuela being accepted as an observer country to the
Organization of African Unity.

But there is more.
Venezuela is overturning traditional trade exchange by
setting up organizations like Petrocaribe and fomenting
barter between States. As Latin American analysts have
noted, without Petrocaribe, the 16 member countries -
impoverished, lacking infrastructure and dependent on
international aid - would today, with the exception of Cuba
and Venezuela, face a tragic, dead-end outlook with
astronomical prices for oil and its derivatives, along with
increased world food prices as a result of production geared
to bio-fuels. The extent of the savings on these countries'
oil bills is already around US$450 million since they freed
themselves from oil market intermediaries and
speculators.

With barter (oil for Cuban doctors, for
Argentine meat and ships, for Uruguayan milk and cheese
etc.), Venezuela has started a direct exchange of goods that
breaks World Trade Organization norms and hands weaker
countries a bigger role when it comes to selling their
produce and raw materials. Under "free market" rules,
impoverished countries and raw materials producers always
see their exports at the mercy of price fluctuations based
not so much on demand as on the political interests of the
big political-financial corporations. Only understanding
this really explains the recent revolt by Southern countries
during the WTO negotiations on agricultural matters,
insisting the developed countries make fewer demands and on
fair treatment not just with regard to prices but also to
the losses they suffer through rich country subsidies to
their own agricultural products, as in the case of the US,
at the same time as they advocate absolute market freedom
for everyone else.

As if all that were not enough, if
Venezuela manages to set up the Bank of the South, it will
make the International Monetary Fund something for the
history books. The reorientation announced by the IMF, as
well as its readiness not to impose loans conditioned on
structural adjustment, but rather to be more flexible
towards countries, would not have been possible without
Venezuela as an important alternative source of finance,
much less onerous than the IMF or the World Bank.
Argentina's economic success is owed in large part to
Venezuelan economic aid, which allowed Kirchner's government
to follow policies outside the recommendations of the
IMF.

The more or less radical left turn happening in Latin
America following the Venezuelan example is a result of
neoliberalism's macro-economic failure which has enormously
increased inequality and poverty for the great majority
while the same old minority has become even more wealthy.
The fact that certain social initiatives are now being
launched, as during the recent Ibero-American Summit - is
down to the processes described above. Without Venezuela's
"bad example" neither the Spanish government nor the Latin
American ones now praised by the mass media would have moved
in that direction.

Now one can hardly wait for these
governments fighting Venezuela's bad example to bring in a 6
hour working day; to recognise social property alongside
public and private property; to ensure that public officials
become subject to evaluation by means of public referendum
halfway through their period, and dismissed if that is what
people want; that they set up community councils and see to
it that people in any municipality can formulate, execute
and evaluate public policies adopted by the community with
or without support from the municipal authorities. Some of
these matters are included in the proposal for
constitutional reform to be voted on this December 2nd. If
it is approved it will reinforce long term social and
political democratization, especially in foreign
policy.

And that is what upsets the gurus of
globalization, including the Spanish companies so warmly
defended over the last few days. When these supposedly
democracy-loving businessmen talk about "legal insecurity"
in some countries and mention always Venezuela, Bolivia and
Ecuador, they do so from a neocolonial premise, criticizing
the approval of laws in those countries by means of which
those peoples win back control of their energy resources.
The proposed changes in Venezuela's constitutional reform
reaffirm the recovery of the country's wealth, although they
receive scanting criticism from parts of the Venezuelan
Left, at the same time they open up popular participation in
ways unknown to most of the world, including Europe.

There
is no attack in Venezuela against capitalism as such, but
there is an effort to build an alternative in the sense of
creating a society in which the explicit aim is not the
growth of capital or of the material means of production but
rather the development of human capital. So long as the
Bolivarian movement was not building that alternative there
were no important desertions from its right wing. Now there
are, because the class struggle is deepening and everyone
takes their side.

James Petras is quite right when he
states, "The opposition coalition of the wealthy and
privileged fear the constitutional reforms because these
should hand a larger percentage of their benefits to the
working class, they will lose their monopoly on market
transactions - which will pass to public companies - and the
political power they now enjoy will be displaced towards
local community councils and towards the executive power.
While the right wing and liberal media of Venezuela, Europe
and the USA have invented shocking accusations against the
"authoritarian" reforms, the truth is that the amendments
offer a deeper and wider social democracy". That is the bad
example Venezuela is giving, the bad example of the good
left.

*************

Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and writer
specializing in International Relations

albercruz (at)
eresmas.com

translation copyleft Tortilla con
Sal

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