"It is not a process where the people are waiting for the leader to deliver them a present, it is a process where the people are waking up, are auto-affirming themselves, are growing as people, and are forming themselves in the missions, through [Chavez's weekly TV program] Alo Presidente , and through their daily participation." - from Marta Harnecker interview, below. Friends, I continue to be inspired and impressed by events in Venezuela. Here we can see an honest attempt by Chavez to empower the people themselves, in the grassroots, to take responsibility for solving their own problems and managing their own affairs. Similarly, as a player in Latin American affairs, Venezuela is setting up cooperative arrangements, and barter systems, aimed at building collaboration and economic self-sufficiency in Latin America, and directly confronting the forces of neoliberal globalization and the interests of financial elites. The recent defeat of the NTAA initiative, at the Americas conference, demonstrates a new spirit of independence and self-reliance in the region generally, a spirit to which Chavez' initiatives have clearly contributed. In pursuing the Bolivarian project, Chavez, and the people of Venezuela, are encountering three sources of resistance: the forces of globalization, domestic wealthy elites, and the domestic political apparatus. If it were otherwise, I would be discouraged. The project seeks local autonomy and economic self-sufficiency - anathema to neoliberalism - and opposition from Washington is to be expected. The project seeks to achieve empowerment and improvement in living conditions for people generally, and we should expect entrenched elites to struggle against the erosion of their political influence and economic leverage. The project seeks to evolve toward a genuine, participatory democracy, and we should expect opposition from 'party people' and from career bureaucrats. In Cuba, we saw a radical transformation of society - along lines similar to those being pursued in Venezuela - but brought about 'all at once', relatively speaking, by an armed insurgency, and a leader who, like Chavez, had the people genuinely in his heart. In Venezuela, we see a more gradual process, led from the top of the old system, and developing in the shadow of that system. In both of these cases, transformation emerged from a context of imperialist exploitation, which provided a collective interest, and common 'enemy', to fuel the transformative process. In Cuba, Castro was able to install a system of representation that employs open dialog at the community level, leading to representation 'by agenda', through a slate of ordinary citizens, rather than representation by politicians who frequently have their own agendas, or who might cater to special interests. This is certainly a step forward for democracy, as compared to the U.S. or European models, even in their ideal form. Venezuela seems to be moving even deeper into local autonomy, local initiative, and real participatory democracy. Chavez is pushed in this direction by the need to move the revolution forward despite bureaucratic resistance. Tactically, a grassroots-centered movement is working for Chavez; strategically -- from the perspective of democracy -- such a movement has the potential to create the most democratic society that the world has seen in some time. Cuba has long been seen by Washington as a 'thorn in our side', and all sorts of destabilization initiatives have been pursued over the years, both overt and covert. Venezuela, however, represents far more of a threat to 'American interests' -- i.e., the interests of financial elites and the neoliberal project -- than Cuba ever did. While Che Guevara was killed in the jungles before he could do much 'exporting of revolution', Chavez is openly engaged in organizing his Latin American counterparts in opposition to the plans of elite global interests. While Cuba has had to live on the edge economically, Venezuela has considerable oil, and has been creative in using this valuable resource in support of achieving regional economic self-sufficiency. Chavez is beginning to use the word 'socialism' to describe the goals of the Bolivarian project. To our ears this may raise fears of centralized systems, but given the grassroots nature of the movement, we must take 'socialism' in the broad sense: organizing the economy around the needs and desires of the people, rather than around serving the interests of the already wealthy. Real socialism, in its ideal sense, is most achievable in a grassroots-based participatory democracy; there is no contradiction. To the ears of the neocons and their employers on Wall Street, 'socialism is socialism'. Whatever form it takes: it represents a challenge to the neoliberal project and to the financial hegemony of dominant elites. Iran is a threat to elite interests because it is making long-range oil deals with China, and because it is planning to set up a Euro-based oil exchange. The China deals undermine the Anglo-American strategy of oil-based dominance, and the Euro exchange threatens Wall Street financial dominance, which is based on the petrodollar, and which keeps the American economy from collapsing altogether. It is no wonder that the war sabres have been rattling, and WMD fantasies have been reappearing, and talks of UN sanctions, in the case of Iran. But what's happening in Latin America, right in America's 'back yard', is very much an equivalent threat to the same interests and for the same reasons. We must assume that the same planners who come up with schemes for 'regime change' in Iran, have also come up with schemes for Venezuela, and with comparable urgency. To be sure there was a concerted effort by the CIA, in collaboration with wealthy Venezuelan elites, to stage a coup against Chavez. But other than that, he has been left pretty much alone, apart from the occasional 'concern' expressed by the White House. Whatever 'big stick' Uncle Sam might have in mind for Venezuela, 'walk quietly' makes sense for now, given that the U.S imports lots of Venezuelan oil. We cannot take this 'grace period' as being an encouraging sign. The threat posed by Chavez's initiatives are too great. If Latin America moves toward its own kind of regional 'trade zone', based on mutual benefit rather than economic exploitation, and on self-sufficiency rather than dependence on multinational banks, that would be perceived by Wall Street as being the equivalent of a 'communist takeover' of the continent. A cooperative- minded Latin-American block would find natural alliance with China, Russia, and Iran, creating a bipolar financial world, in place of petrodollar hegemony. Already China and Russia are building alliances and making investments and deals in Latin America, and supplying modern weapons systems. It's not a pretty scenario to those who favor the PNAC agenda, and its vision of American geopolitical and economic hegemony. The danger to Chavez is great, particularly while the Bolivarian project still depends on his personal ability to work effectively with the administrative hierarchy, the grassroots initiatives, and his counterparts in the rest of Latin America. Over the past century there have been numerous cases of sudden deaths, typically in questionable circumstances, and always at critical times, where one individual was making lots of trouble for the New York or London banks. The target might be a German banker, an Italian industrialist, a Swedish financier, or even a U.S. President, as we learned in Dallas. Chavez is doing all he can to watch his back, but no one is really safe from spook assassins, if they are unleashed. We can only hope that the Bolivarian project takes root quickly in Venezuela, and that lasting collaborations are established rapidly in Latin America. In the meantime, we can hope that the models being developed in Venezuela find fertile soil elsewhere, in Latin America and wherever political and economic conditions are favorable. rkm -------------------------------------------------------- Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2005 10:57:50 +1000 From: glparramatta <•••@••.•••> Subject: VENEZUELA: Building socialist democracy - Green Left Weekly #646, October 26, 2005 (1) Green Left Weekly <http://www.greenleft.org.au/index.htm> RSS feed <http://www.greenleft.org.au/rss/glw.xml> Green Left Weekly #646, October 26, 2005 VENEZUELA: Building socialist democracy - an interview with Marta Harnecker <http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/646/646p12.htm> Along with attempting to transform the state and the logic of the capitalist market, the Bolivarian revolution has fought to replace the so-called representative democracy that existed for 40 years prior to the 1998 election of Chavez and replace it with a real participatory democracy, under which the people begin to take control of their lives, their community and their country. It is in this area of popular participation that Harnecker spends most of her time, studying and promoting new experiences and initiatives that are attempting to transfer real decision-making power to the people... * VENEZUELA: Expropriations, cooperatives and co-management <http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/646/646p14.htm> * VENEZUELA: Government rejects latest slurs <http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/646/646p12b.htm> * VENEZUELA: Significant decrease in poverty <http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/646/646p12c.htm> ___________________________________________ http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/646/646p12.htm VENEZUELA: Building socialism - an interview with Marta Harnecker Federico Fuentes, Caracas The last time I spoke with long-time influential writer on Latin American politics Marta Harnecker was at the 2003 World Social Forum, where we talked of the "most important anti-neoliberal struggle in the world" unfolding in Venezuela. It was two years later at this same event that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for the first time in the international arena, proclaimed his support for socialism as the only alternative to capitalism. Harnecker now lives in Venezuela, trying to support the government however she can, including working as an adviser to the new Minister of Participation and Social Development. Meeting her again, I asked her what she thought Chavez's comments on socialism represented in relation to changes in Venezuela over that period. "I think you can say that nothing new has happened after the declaration of socialism, because the declaration is nothing more than giving a name to many things that were already occurring in this country. These were all things that were against the logic of capital. Instead they were based on the logic of a humanist solidarity. "What had been occurring in practice helped to demonstrate to the leadership of this process that the logic of humanism and solidarity that they were proposing would at each step clash with the logic of capital. "Look at the social missions. The missions are not socialist, but they can only be imagined in a society that wants to construct something different from capitalism, because they permit people to grow, to become subjects in this process and create a new way of looking at society." The social missions - which began with Mission Barrio Adentro, taking health care into the poorest barrios of Caracas - have now been extended to incorporate Venezuelans who have traditionally been excluded from the education system through Mission Robinson (literacy), Mission Ribas (high school) and Mission Sucre (university). Other missions have been established to tackle the plight of indigenous peoples (Mission Guicapuro) and the struggle of campesinos (peasants) for land (Mission Zamora), among others. Harnecker explained that "one of the most important missions is Mercal. Mercal is something that is contrary to the logic of capital. It attempts to give food to people at a price not fixed by the law of demand, but rather at below market prices." Products in Mercal outlets are usually sold at up to 40% below the market prices. "It also has attempted to establish a network for national production by buying from cooperatives. One of the problems of cooperatives is the competition they face in the capitalist market. This is resolved by a state market which buys the products for the people and offers them at below market prices, where during the whole process profit is not the objective. "It is interesting if we look at how the idea of Mercal comes about. It originates from the necessity of food sovereignty, coming out of the bosses' strike in December 2002." Harnecker said that the government at that time saw "how weak they were, all the food was in the hands of private businesses, so they could strangle the process through hunger. So the government rapidly saw the necessity to resolve this problem." Harnecker noted that the missions "were only possible by going outside the inherited state. One of the biggest problems of this revolution is the inherited state apparatus and the inherited habits of the people. The missions were a way of doing things outside the state and beginning to transform it from the outside, something that is very difficult." Participatory democracy Along with attempting to transform the state and the logic of the capitalist market, the Bolivarian revolution has fought to replace the so-called representative democracy that existed for 40 years prior to the 1998 election of Chavez and replace it with a real participatory and protagonist democracy, under which the people begin to take control of their lives, their community and their country. It is in this area of popular participation that Harnecker spends most of her time, studying and promoting new experiences and initiatives that are attempting to transfer real decision-making power to the people. For Harnecker, "Venezuela is a country that gives its citizens all the opportunities possible for people to participate". We discussed the experience of the community governments in Carabobo. There, in the municipality of Libertador, the mayor has worked on the division of the parroquiales into sectors, where community governments are established to decentralise tasks and resources, such as rubbish collection and the maintenance and payment of electricity supply. All these tasks are taken on by the whole community, with resources from the council. The Chavez government has also promoted the establishment of community committees to tackle problems of health, education, sport and other issues, working closely with the missions. The Comites de Salud (health committees) are one example. They work closely with the Cuban doctors in Mission Barrio Adentro, helping to carry out censuses of the community and encouraging those that are ill to visit the local doctor, whom many couldn't previously afford to see. Harnecker explained: "There are many different experiences, with different names, but similar objectives." Together with the ministry for popular participation and social development, Harnecker is working on the promotion of the communal councils. "One of the problems we have here is that the new constitution has created excellent conditions for the protagonist participation of the people, but these ideas are not always implemented correctly." Harnecker cited the example of the Local Councils of Public Planning (CLPPs), established in the constitution and codified into law. These aimed to establish a council involving the mayor, the elected members of the municipal council, the presidents of the Juntas Parroquiales and leaders of the organised community elected in citizens' assemblies. The idea was that the community would have 50%-plus-one membership of this body and it would help to establish where a certain portion of the municipality's budget went. Yet in reality there have been many problems in getting these off the ground. "For example", said Harnecker, "how do you democratically elect representatives from a community in a citizen's assembly when we are talking of a geographic area which is inhabited by thousands or tens of thousands of people? Whilst the grassroots of the society are not organised, it will be very difficult for those who make up the CLPP as an expression of the people to be truly representative. "That is why it is so important to form the communal councils in small communities of 200 to 600 families in urban areas and much smaller in rural areas. The spokespeople of those councils should be the representatives of that community in the CLPP. The councils also help to resolve the problem of the dispersion of the organisations that are in the community. There are many popular organisations which are very focused on their own sector." Harnecker explained that what they are proposing with the communal councils is "that the community put forward an organisation or space that articulates all the organisations which exist in a community and that allows the elaboration of a single plan for the community which includes health, education, everything, but that it be a single plan". Leadership Through increasing popular participation, Harnecker explained that it "will help consolidate this process at the grassroots level, take it forward and broaden it, creating more forces that are in favour of the process". Facilitating popular participation will also help create a whole new generation of leaders, because "that is where the people will have to do things and will have to demonstrate in practice that they are capable of leading this process. This is why I am enthusiastic about working with the construction of popular participation at the grassroots level, with the ideas of the communal councils, because these people are elected according to the leadership they display in their day-to-day activities." This is also how Harnecker sees that the Venezuelan process will be able to overcome one of its biggest weaknesses - the lack of a political instrument. "The different parties and different leaderships have not been able to integrate in a real way, they are too worried about their own group's interests and there is a big problem within the MVR [Chavez's party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic], which attempts to impose its hegemony. It is a 'majoritarian' party that is not really very generous. The problem is not so much in the top leadership, who understand that it is necessary to give and create spaces for their allies, but because there are many groups within the MVR they need to respond to the requirements of each group and that is where the problem comes from. "For a while after the referendum it appeared that the UBEs [Units for Electoral Battle], a brilliant form of organisation, would allow Chavez to resolve the issue of the connection with the people and how to organise them. At that moment, a political front could maybe have been created from the UBEs, where the people involved would have really been those who worked in the grassroots, with representatives from the parties, but with a majority who came through because of work in the grassroots. Unfortunately the conditions were not there, particularly from what I have been told about the discussion inside the MVR, to accept the idea." Harnecker believes that "unless some very grave event happens that forces [the parties] to put the interests of the process above all else ... I foresee a process much longer of construction of leaders, the growth of leaders via popular participation. In six years I believe we are going to have a generation of leaders that will impose themselves on this process." Asked whether the revolution has six years to solve the problem, Harnecker replied: "What Chavez is doing is looking for mechanisms to substitute for that deficiency. He is the clear conductor of this process, the process depends a lot on Chavez and that is why the threat of assassination is real. However, with that conductor and with the popular pedagogy and with a process that creates opportunities for the people to participate and grow, this problem is being overcome. It is not a process where the people are waiting for the leader to deliver them a present, it is a process where the people are waking up, are auto-affirming themselves, are growing as people, and are forming themselves in the missions, through [Chavez's weekly TV program] Alo Presidente , and through their daily participation." From Green Left Weekly, October 26, 2005. Visit the Green Left Weekly home page. Send a letter to the editor Join the Green Left discussion list -- -------------------------------------------------------- http://cyberjournal.org "Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World" http://www.cyberjournal.org/cj/rkm/Apocalypse_and_NWO.html Posting archives: http://cyberjournal.org/cj/show_archives/?date=01Jan2006&batch=25&lists=newslog Subscribe to low-traffic list: •••@••.••• ___________________________________________ In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.