Socialism Seems to be Working in Venezuela

Democratic socialism means health care, jobs, food, and security, in neighborhoods where in many cases nothing but absolute poverty existed ten years ago.

Democracy from the bottom is evolving as a ten-year social revolution
in Venezuela. Led by President Hugo Chavez, the United Socialist Party
of Venezuela (PSUV) gained over one and a half million voters in the
November 23, elections. "It was a wonderful victory," said Professor
Carmen Carrero with the Communications Studies Department of the
Bolivarian University in Caracas. "We won 81% of the city mayor
positions and seventeen of twenty-three of the state governors,"
Carrero reported.

The Bolivarian University is housed in the former oil ministry
building and now serves 8,000 students throughout Venezuela. The
University, (Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela) is symbolic of the
democratic socialist changes occurring throughout the country. Before
the election of Chavez in 1998, college attendance was primarily for
the rich. Today over one million eight hundred thousand students attend
college, three times the rate ten years ago. "Our university was
established to resist domination and imperialism," reported Marlene
Yadira Cordova, Principal (president) in an interview November 10. "We
are a university where we have a vision of life that the oppressed
people have a place on this planet," declared Principal Cardova.

enthusiasm for learning and serious-thoughtful questions asked by
students I saw that day was certainly representative of a belief in
potential of positive social change for human betterment. The
University offers a fully staffed free health care clinic, zero
tuition, and basic no-cost food for students in the cafeteria, all paid
for by the oil revenues now being democratically shared with the

Bottom up democracy in Venezuela starts with the 25,000
community councils elected in every neighborhood in the country. "We
establish the priority needs of our area," reported community council
spokesperson Carmon Aponte, with the neighborhood council in the barrio
Bombilla area of western Caracas. I interviewed Carmon while visiting
the Patare Community TV and radio station—one of thirty-four locally
controlled community television stations and four hundred radio
stations now in the barrios throughout Venezuela. Community radio, TV
and newspapers are the voice of the people, where they describe the
viewers/listeners as the "users" of media instead of the passive

Democratic socialism means health care, jobs, food,
and security, in neighborhoods where in many cases nothing but absolute
poverty existed ten years ago. With unemployment down to a US level,
sharing the wealth has taken real meaning in Venezuela. Despite a 50%
increases in the prices of food last year, local Mercals offer
government subsidized cooking oil, corn meal, meat, powered milk at
30-50% off market. Additionally, there are now 3,500 local communal
banks with a $1.6 billion dollar budget offering neighborhood-based
micro-financing loans for home improvements, small businesses, and
personal emergencies.

"We have moved from a time of disdain
[pre-revolution—when the upper classes saw working people as less than
human] to a time of adjustment," proclaimed Gallo Mora Witt, Ecuador’s
minister of Culture at the opening ceremonies of the Fourth
International Book Fair in Caracas on November 7. Venezuela’s Minister
of Culture, Hector Soto added, "we try not to leave anyone out… before
the revolution the elites published only 60-80 books a year, we will
publish 1,200 Venezuelan authors this year…the book will never stop
being the important tool for cultural feelings." In fact, some
twenty-five million books—classics by Victor Hugo and Miguel de
Cervantes along with Cindy Sheehan’s Letter to George Bush—were
published in 2008 and are being distributed to the community councils

In Venezuela the corporate media are still owned by
the elites. The five major TV networks, and nine of the ten major
newspapers maintain a continuing media effort to undermine Chavez. But
despite the corporate media and continuing US taxpayer financial
support to anti-Chavez opposition institutions from USAID and National
Endowment for Democracy ($20 million annually), two-thirds of the
people in Venezuela continue to support him and the United Socialist
Party. The democracies of South America are realizing that the
neo-liberal formulas for capitalism are not working for the people and
that new forms of resource allocation are necessary for human
betterment. It is a learning process for all involved and certainly a
democratic effort from the bottom up.

Peter Phillips is a
Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and director of
Project Censored. The Censored 2009 yearbook has just been released in
Spanish at the 2008 International book fair in Caracas. This column was
distributed by MinutemanMedia.org.