Last Spring I noticed that articles about Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chavez, began to appear more and more in the media. At first they were almost all negative, from attacks in the New York Review of Books, to snide comments in the New York Times.
Then there were the TV snippets showing Fidel Castro and President Chavez, along with condemnations from various parts of the Bush administration. Soon I saw Venezuelan solidarity groups being formed and films such as “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (about the attempted coup of President Chavez).
It became obvious that something special was happening down there. So when I learned about a Global Reality tour that would be coinciding with the presidential election I decided to go and see for myself.
What I found was
1. Overwhelming support by the people of Venezuela for Pres. Chavez and his ideas,
2. A significant number of successful programs promoting help for the poor and dispossessed in both Venezuela and throughout Latin America, and
3. The on-again, off-again efforts of the U.S. government to destablize the success of 1 and 2.
President Chavez was re-elected with over 60 percent of the vote. The weekend before, I attended a rally of his supporters that numbered over one million. Many had traveled hours from all parts of the country.
On election day, with a Spanish translator, I interviewed about 25 people who had just cast their ballots. The most popular reason they voted was to endorse the various Mission programs set up by the government. (These have no connection to the Spanish missions established in the U.S.).
These programs focus on education, especially literacy, high school graduation, improved health centers, and job creation. Because one of our tour members suffered severe back pains, we were able to witness first-hand the medical services, Totally free, these Cuban staffed clinics are spreading throughout the country. Supported by the exchange of oil to Cuba, they supply a needed solution to areas previously experiencing little or no healthcare.
Inheriting a system of extensive corruption, historically greased by the petrodollar booms, Chavez is now widely funding cooperatives in an effort to promote a new consciousness of group initiative. There are presently over 1,000 government co-ops in Venezuela. We visited them in both the city and country.
At a women fruit canning operation, we were asked by the leader our most provocative question. What did we think of Chavez referring to Bush as the devil at the United Nations? (We generally agreed that it made the U.S. population more defensive.) We also went to a shoe factory where petroleum based products were recycled into shoe soles. This has been one of the paradoxes in the recent history of Venezuela.
Lots of money available during high oil price times but very little of it distributed to the lower sections of the society. At present record oil profits, the government is scheduled in 2007 to be able to distribute nearly 10 billion dollars. This is beyond the automatic reserve system.
A significant factor about the Bolivarian Revolution, as the government nicknames itself, is the additional use of the country's oil resources and profits to subsidize reforms for the poor throughout Latin America. Chavez has not only closely identified himself with the cause of Cuba, but also Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. The day before we left, a milk cooperative in Argentina was re-funded after missing a payment deadline to the U.S. financier George Soros.
Chavez has also embraced the cause of indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan people. When attacked by conservatives in the election in an attempt to raise fears about who would gain by his programs, Chavez willingly took up the cause of his own indigenous and Black background. He went on to pointedly scorn his opponents for their attempts at a racial exploitation of the campaign.
In his campaign, Pres. Chavez prominently warned against U.S. government interference. One of his most popular banners that stretched across streets advocated “Against the devil, and against imperialism.”
During our tour we heard from author Eva Golinger, “The Chavez Code,” and in 2007, “Bush vs. Chavez.” Using research discovered from the Freedom of Information Act, she boiled down the interference into three categories; Financial aid, including money and advice, Diplomatic, accusing Chavez of fostering terrorism, becoming a dictator, and destabilizing the region, and Military, increasing pressure in the region by building up to as many as 40,000 troops on neighboring Caribbean islands, and aiding and installing Colombian paramilitary groups in Venezuela to assassinate Chavez. (One such group was actually seized by Venezuelan troops earlier in 2006).
Recently, Jens Gould in the N.Y. Times detailed much of these same charges. According to officials involved in the projects, Gould cited the United States Agency for International Development with distributing about $25 million to various Venezuelan organizations over the last five years.
During the election, consumers throughout the country cleared out the supplies of their local stores, fearing some type of coup as the result of the expected Chavez victory. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of government troops were distributed throughout the nation for security reasons. Fortunately, democracy ruled the day, at least for now.
However, with so many successful and popular initiatives in Venezuela, and support for other progressive reforms in other Latin America countries, it's obvious that further destabilizing efforts by the U.S. government will not disappear. In the meantime I encourage everyone to learn more about what is happening in the Bolivarian Revolution.