Most media commentary, for and against the
process of change and deep-going transformation that the government of
President Hugo Chavez is leading, focuses on Venezuela's cities.
However, a fuller picture of the Venezuelan reality goes someway to explaining the depth of Chavez's support.
Take San Martin de Turumbang, a small indigenous community of several
hundred families on the riverbank of Venezuela's border with Guyana –
and four hours mostly by 4-wheel drive from the nearest city.
San Martin has a health clinic, a school and a spattering of small
general stores serving the population which is composed of various
indigenous groups with distinct cultures, languages and traditions.
Unlike remote indigenous communities in many other countries, there is full employment in the area – mainly in mining.
I accompanied members of the Venezuelan Indigenous Parliament on a
visit to San Martin in December to find out what the people here want
and need, because although the Chavez government has made available
considerable funds for community development projects, no applications
had been received from this area.
Our visit coincided with that of several teams of health workers
and government officials on one of their regular visits. Their
quarterly trips ensure the provision of higher-level health care than
ordinarily available at the one-doctor clinic.
The army was also on hand, providing a dentist as well as
transport, as people from the neighbouring jungle communities often
face a three or four day walk, or must travel long distances by boat,
to reach San Martin.
The army's assistance enables people from these far-flung
communities to both participate in community meetings and avail
themselves of otherwise inaccessible services.
During the two days of activities, more than 200 medical
consultations and more than 100 dental treatments were performed, as
well as scores of registrations.
Not everyone went away happy – the history of the area means that establishing citizenship can be very complicated.
One community member, Lesley Brown, told me how he was actually
born in Guyana but as a young man he, along with many other young
indigenous men, was offered free land by the Guyana government in what
is now called the "reclamation zone".
It was an unashamed land-grab of Venezuelan land. Worse still was
the fact that the Guyana government then armed many of these men to
defend themselves against the true owners of the land, also indigenous,
who were trying to prevent the theft – causing violence.
Brown survived the conflict and now has Venezuelan citizenship,
having lived and worked in the zone for 30 years. However, others have
yet to provide sufficient evidence to receive Venezuelan citizenship.
Distance from cities and limited transport means the lack of
identity documentation is widespread and determining citizenship is
extremely difficult. Nonetheless, the government is seeking to address
the problem through one of its less-well-known programs – one that is
much needed and highly appreciated.
Over the many hours of meetings, that went on into the night, the
communities raised several important issues with the mayor and the
indigenous parliamentarians, such as the need for an inpatient service
at the health clinic.
They also want to do something to address the fact that, although
there is virtually full employment, their nutritional status is poor.
One complex problem raised was the environmental effects of mining,
from which most people earn their living but which is polluting the
water, the fish and, according to some, the people.
While communities had many ideas about how to address these
problems, they informed the parliamentarians that they have not applied
for funding for projects because they lack the skills, knowledge and
experience to develop and manage the sorts of necessary community
projects. The communities identified this as their major obstacle.
The communities and parliamentarians agreed to a further to nut out a program of action to resolve the problem.
This is a classic example of the type of participatory democracy
that is being promoted across Venezuela, whereby communities themselves
take control of their lives. The government assists by providing
resources, money and skills.
This approach stands in stark contrast to the approach of
pre-Chavez governments that resulted in the marginalisation of
indigenous peoples and their impoverishment.
No wonder the indigenous people, and those in Venezuela's rural and
remote areas, support the Chavez government and the Venezuelan
revolution so strongly.
From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #785 4 March 2009.