Znet: Venezuela – the country of parallels

2005-05-27

Richard Moore

--------------------------------------------------------
Subject:  Znet Update & Venezuela Commentary 
Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 09:53:10 -0400
From: "Michael Albert" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>

Venezuela - the country of parallels
I - The parallel revolution
By America Vera-Zavala

On a parallel street, within walking distance from the
presidential palace, you can find a squatted building taken
over and run by communities. It is an old office building,
very close to one of the most touristic squares in downtown
Caracas: Bellas Artes and the huge hotel Hilton, which
nowadays also hosts Bolivarian conferences and friends of the
revolution. A theatre rehearsal is the activity on the
Saturday afternoon when I visit the building. People of all
ages are represented on that main floor built to be a fancy
reception and not a centre for community activities.

The building was squatted one year ago, and apparently there
seems to be quite a few central squatted buildings, but no
network exists between them to serve you with more facts. This
one has been flourishing ever since it was taken over. In this
building people live, eat, make political and cultural
meetings and most of the campaigns the president has set off
are functioning there. El proceso, the process, as the
revolution is popularly called is at work there.

The proclaimed Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela is a
revolution made up of parallels. To win elections is not the
same as to take state power and in Venezuela opposition still
holds many posts in the various departments, state owned
companies and media, and control much of the economy. The over
cumbersome bureaucracy within the government although not
partisan, is slowing down the process as they go on doing the
way they always did, and they have not received an education
in new Bolivarian public management.

In fact a new Bolivarian Public Management School doesn't
exist. Leaders of the revolution; governors, mayors,
ministers, officials, bureaucrats, members of parliaments are
persons that should be executing the paragraphs in the
constitution and making them real, planning and organising the
process, guaranteeing that the objectives are met but for
various reasons it doesn't seem to be working as smoothly as
it should. Together they constitute a thick middle layer in
society making change hard. The president's answer to that has
been parallelism - a political strategy not yet labelled.
Parallelism is being practised by the president as well as on
a grassroots level - the people.

An important part of what is actually being won in the process
is created through parallels. If the health sector in the
country is not willing to serve poor people - the president
creates a parallel, brings in hundreds of Cuban doctors and
lets them work.

If the educational sector is working poorly and apparently has
not been fighting illiteracy - he creates a parallel, develops
education programs and makes the communities responsible for
their functioning.

If the shops are not selling affordable food - he creates a
parallel, creates subsidised shops, and if people are still
going hungry - he creates another parallel, provide food and
make the communities responsible for cooking and sharing the
meals.

And the parallels are working - soon illiteracy will be
exterminated. The left-wing theory of creating parallel powers
to break down and end the old order is here taken to new
breathtaking heights.

President Chavez is not only creating a parallel bank, health
and education programs, and a parallel to the CNN - Telesur.
There is even a very popular soap opera, Amores de Barrio
Adentro, (which is the same name as the health program) about
love over class boundaries set in the political Venezuelan
atmosphere - as a parallel to other soaps.

In the squatted building on the parallel street to the
presidential palace, the community run revolution is
effective. "Here we have mission Robinson and mission Ribas,
people come here to learn how to read and write, we coordinate
the Cuban doctors and we provide food for poor people. We also
have Bolivarian circles, popular education and cultural
activities, like the theatre you saw. I am an educator, and
give courses on cooperatives. But we don't want anything to do
with political parties."

The man who shows me around in the community centre underlines
that they are not political. On the walls there are several
Che Guevara posters, Arafat's face with a message of a free
Palestine, Bolivar the liberator, and Chavez, of course. I
smile and repeat: so you're not political and nod at Che. "We
are not political because we don't like political parties", he
insists.

After the No victory in the 2004 referendum Chavez proposed
that all campaign activists should become social activists.
The people in the occupied house have successfully taken on
that transformation. "In many places it has not worked, the
electoral units have ceased to exist, but here we work even
harder" the man tells me. Some time ago the squatted house
faced a possible eviction. The municipality wanted to do
something else with the house. "We called for a big assembly,
to talk about the situation and decided to fight to stay, and
until now we are here, making the revolution", he says with
pride.

The various parallels launched by the president are all
dressed in either a military language or named after historic
personalities from important moments in liberation struggle.
You could divide them into two main fields: electoral
campaigns and social transformation movements.

To win all elections he has had to trust the base. He set up
parallel actions to guarantee the votes from all those
supporting the process, but not being touched by traditional
campaigns or possibly facing harassments for being chavistas.
The outcome has been a great success every time and for the
2006 presidential election Chavez has set up the goal of 10
million votes.

The social missions, mis=EDones, could be divided into four
main areas: education, vocational training, health and
nutrition. Mis=EDon Robinson is for basic education and is the
weapon to erase illiteracy in the country. Mis=EDon Ribas
prepares high school students for university education.
Mis=EDon Vuelvan Caras is to train workers and prepare them
for future employment. Misi=F3n Barrio Adentro has taken in
Cuban doctors to serve in small community built clinics in the
barrios, the Venezuelan word for slums. Mis=EDon Milagro
(miracle) performs operations on patients with cataract and
glaucoma and makes people see again. Mercal is the name for
the subsidized food shops you find all over the country.
Another food program provides free food to barrios, community
members prepare it and give one cooked meal a day to children,
single mothers, pregnant women, elderly people etc.

All the missions are run by communities. They organise the set
up of the clinics, the education halls, recruit voluntary
teachers, make schedules and solve thousands of problems that
come up. They do it on voluntary basis and they reach out to
many. The health program, Barrio Adentro I, was launched in
April 2003 and has already passed over 100 million
consultations. People who have never seen a doctor in their
entire life before has now had multiple encounters.

The parallels and their effects are an important reason for
the massive popular support of the process. Interviewing a
community activist in the legendary neighbourhood 23 de Enero,
I ask what he thinks makes the process important: "The process
has dignified people and given us an opportunity to express
what we think, without being ashamed of ourselves. The
Bolivarian revolution has also succeeded in mobilising people,
and making us feel that this process is ours, we are
co-responsible for it. If it doesn't work I am responsible for
that failure too. And we are included in education and health
programs."

People here know repression and exclusion; they have lived it
on a daily basis since the squatting of the newly built
colourful modern blocks on January 23rd 1958, the day the
dictator, Perez Jimenez, was overthrown. That was a time of
mobilisation and popular democratic aspirations, until the
people were betrayed and the neighbourhood repressed. This
time there has been no treason.

On my way down from 23 de Enero I see a slogan, written big in
red and black on a wall: Al pasado no regresaremos jam=E1s! We
will never return to the past! This seems to be very well
rooted in people's minds. They know things have changed, and
to the better, that is why they are the ones making the
revolution real, but not without criticism.

The opposition in Venezuela is called escualidos, and that
term has been generalised to be used against anyone making the
process difficult. People want the elected politicians,
mayors, governors and officials to work properly for a common
good and too often they see things work in the bad old way,
with corruption, positioning, and meaningless fights over
power. The parallels are the new tracks created to go around
the old ones - parallel lines never intersect. In that way,
you avoid confrontation in a country were opposition has been
violent and people need time to consolidate and build and not
only confront. But people are impatient to see the parallels
become the main tracks.

President Hugo Chavez is a phenomenon, not so much for 8 hour
long speeches which is rather old school, but for an amazing
way of directly communicating with the base. Somehow he avoids
the thick middle layer and puts forward the people's thoughts
and ideas.

President Chavez is the initiator, the developer, the
ideologist and at the same time, the hardest criticiser of the
process. The ideas he refines and puts forward in speeches are
thoughts being formulated at the grassroots level. In the
memorial speech three years after the coup president Chavez
said that what has to die has not yet died, and what has to be
born has not yet completed its naissance.

That is the core of the present Venezuelan parallelism - the
old tracks are still parallel with the new ways. A change of
tracks is not easy but it can be done. The squatted house is
as close, or as far, as the various government institutions
are to the presidential palace. If they are the ones
stimulating the process maybe they should be recognised as a
community centre, fed with resources, and on the other hand
the institutions slowing down the process should be put on a
diet.

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

"Escaping The Matrix - 
Global Transformation: 
WHY WE NEED IT, AND HOW WE CAN ACHIEVE IT ", old draft:
    http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/rkmGlblTrans.html
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