A Revolution in a land far away – why is it important to me?

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by Andy Goodall
A Revolution in a land far away – why is it important to me? Over the past few years, a revolution is happening in a land which people are now increasingly becoming aware of. This revolution has taken everybody by surprise, and as a result has caused optimism, anger, confusion, sadness, hatred and hope. All this is amongst those who are aware of much of what is happening. This can also apply to those who know little about the details.

The country in question is Venezuela , until recently a little known country by most living in Britain , it is nevertheless the worlds 4th largest exporter of oil, primarily to the United States of America but generating new markets recently. We are all affected by events happening there, as George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and many US military chiefs have repeatedly made threats against Venezuela . Senior Right wing proponents have called for assassination of President Chavez. What are they upset about?

To understand this we need to need to understand what things were like in the recent past:

40% of all Caracas habitations had no water. Widespread illiteracy throughout the country 80% of Venezuelans lived in poverty minimal Health and Education Yawning divide between rich and poor Mass media censorship 80% of land belonged to 6% of the population Policy of "disappearing" left-wing activists was started in Venezuela and used as a model for the Southern Cone countries in the 1970's.  Mass oppression to implement huge IMF cuts.

During all of this time, the major international Human Rights institutions and governments accepted this with minimal, if any criticism. Private oil companies in the US made billions of dollars in profits exported from Venezuela .

Finally, in 1998 the population broke free of this appalling history and elected Hugo Chavez.

Much confusion exists about the nature of this man. Indeed, the big business and media attempts to misrepresent him and the reforms have taken multiple forms. Initially, they pretended to welcome him, thinking that maybe he could be bought off like so many others, and still run the country in their interests. However, with his determination to broaden democracy, a national debate on the constitution took place. This debated Constitution was passed by 71% through a national referendum. This broadened and strengthened democracy and many in the opposition did not like it.

Many critics of Chavez accuse him of being a 'strongman' or a 'demagogue' or other criticisms.Whilst this is the easiest criticism to make, it is also wrong. It is true to say the many ordinary workers in Venezuela have come to adore Chavez. Some of this is inevitably a Messiah complex. However, this has long been exaggerated by the opposition to undermine the mass involvement in the Revolution. Many in Europe are understandably concerned at the "idolisation' of any one person. It is this correct reservation that many in the media and US government attempt to exploit with regard to Chavez. If we are presented with an image of a saviour, we will automatically be cautious. The fact is that there exists an inexorable "link" between Chavez and the Venezuelan people since he represents the hope they have never had in 500 years since Columbus . Political consciousness is a great deal higher than in many western bourgeois democracies and the working class of Venezuela go more for policy than personality.

It is important to note that Chavez has always opposed the centralisation of power. Since his election in 1998 absolutely no censorship has taken place in the media (This was regularly the case since 1945 up until 1998). Indeed the only censorship that has taken place was by the opposition when they launched a fascist coup in 2002 and imposed a dictatorship, closing Venezuelan National Radio and Television as well as other community radio stations. Fortunately the dictatorship was only in power for 48 hours due to mass resistance the length and the breadth of the country Many in the media attempt to portray him as a strongman, imposing a dictatorship. Again, we in Britain have an automatic caution about anybody attempting to limit democracy.

This portrayal of Chavez is wrong. Since 1998 ten elections have been held which Chavez's party won every time. These were all accepted by international observers and have had record turnouts. Chavez again won an overwhelming victory on December 3rd 2006 with over 7.5 million votes (63%) to serve a second term of the Presidency.

Why does all this matter to us? Many of the reforms to British public services now being proposed, were imposed in Latin America almost without restriction for 30 years. This has resulted in momentous poverty and cuts to services. Mass privatisation has meant many go without clean water. A completely decimated public service infrastructure shows alarmingly the potential future for Europe if we follow the same IMF proposed cuts. As trade unionists, we have the general responsibility to provide solidarity. Venezuelan Trade Unionists have regularly called for solidarity links and these can prove useful despite the distance of Venezuela . This solidarity however is not one-sided.

There is much we can learn especially in terms of participative democracy which benefits the poorest in society, by giving them a say in decision making processes and hence political power. The particular circumstance of Venezuela regarding oil puts it in a unique position of international influence. Despite Iraq , Afghanistan etc, many US leaders have repeatedly threatened Venezuela and have led an international campaign of slurs and innuendo. This directly affects us. Their massive investment in health, education, housing and jobs creation is an example of the alternative to mass cuts and privatisation. For the first time in a century, Venezuela is using oil revenues to benefit the poor and not the rich, corrupt bourgeois elites. Whilst Britain looks to cut pensions, they are creating them, knowing this to be economically as well as humanly essential. Many of us have numerous opinions about the content, direction and policies of the Venezuelan Revolution. These are all positive and welcomed. Amongst the solidarity bodies in Britain , trade unionists have supported the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (www.venezuelasolidarity.org.uk). This is a broad based campaign aimed at
Promoting & strengthening links with Venezuelan trade unionists. Co-ordinating solidarity activities within Britain and working together with other groups promoting the Venezuelan cause. Promoting news & documentaries raising awareness about Venezuela . Supporting the right of the Venezuelan people to determine their own future free from external intervention.
Since its creation VSC has undertaken numerous activities, including:
Delegations to Venezuela Online and DVD production of documentaries raising awareness International conferences linking trade unionists in Venezuela, USA, New Zealand etc Promoted and provided research materials and regular updates and news of events. Over the coming year, this work is to increase and we look forward to even greater support and participation.
For more information: venezuelasoldarity.org.uk This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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