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Venezuela’s revolution faces crucial battles; Chavez: `Towards a communal state!'

Revolutionary youth mobilise in Caracas, February 12, 2010. Photo by ABN.

By Federico Fuentes, Caracas

February 20, 2010 -- Decisive battles between the forces of revolution and counter-revolution loom on the horizon in Venezuela. The campaign for the September 26, 2010, National Assembly elections will be a crucial battle between the supporters of socialist President Hugo Chavez and the US-backed right-wing opposition. But these battles, part of the class struggle between the poor majority and the capitalist elite, will be fought more in the streets than at the ballot box.

So far this year, there has been an escalation of demonstrations by violent opposition student groups; the continued selective assassination of trade union and peasant leaders by right-wing paramilitaries; and an intensified private media campaign presenting a picture of a debilitated government in crisis — and on its way out.

Chavez warned on January 29: “If they initiate an extremely violent offensive, that obliges us to take firm action — something I do not recommend they do — our response will wipe them out.” The comment came the day after two students were killed and 21 police suffered bullet wounds in confrontations that rocked the city of Merida.

Chavez challenged the opposition to follow the constitutional road and a recall referendum on his presidential mandate if they truly believe people no longer support him. Under the democratic constitution adopted in 1999, a recall referendum can be called on any elected official if 20% of the electorate sign a petition calling for one.

He said if the capitalists continued down the road of confrontation, he would “accelerate the revolution”, which has declared “21st century socialism” as its goal.

Offensive

The stepped-up campaign of destabilisation is part of the regional offensive launched by the opposition’s masters in Washington.

Last year, the US installed new military bases in Colombia and Panama, reactivated the US Navy Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American waters, and helped organise a military coup that toppled the left-wing Manuel Zelaya government in Honduras.

This year, the US has occupied Haiti with 15,000 soldiers after the January 12 earthquake and US warplanes have been caught violating Venezuela’s airspace. A February 2 report from US National Director of Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, labelled Venezuela the “leading anti-US regional force” — placing the Chavez government in Washington’s crosshairs.

A US military invasion cannot be ruled out, but the main aim of the US military build-up and provocations is to apply pressure on those sections of Venezuela’s armed forces, and others in the pro-Chavez camp, who would prefer to put the brakes on the revolutionary process to avoid a confrontation.

This is occurring hand-in-hand with a campaign of media lies, combining claims that Chavez’s popularity is rapidly declining with rumours of dissent in the military and government.

The US and Venezuelan elite hope to isolate and ultimately, remove Chavez.

The campaign is similar to the one unleashed in 2007 to defeat Chavez’s proposed constitutional reforms, which would have created a legal framework for greater attacks on capital to the benefit of the poor majority but were narrowly defeated in a referendum.

The opposition hopes to fracture Chavez’s support base — the poor majority and the armed forces — and win a majority in the National Assembly (with which it is likely to move to impeach Chavez).

At the very least, the opposition is seeking to stop pro-revolution forces from winning a two-thirds majority in the national assembly, which would restrict the ease with which the Chavistas could pass legislation. The current assembly has a large pro-Chavez majority as a result of the opposition boycotting the 2005 poll.

Revolution advances

The global economic crisis is hitting Venezuela harder than the government initially hoped. Problems in the electricity sector, among others, are also causing strain.

The government’s campaign to raise awareness about the effects of climate change and wasteful usage has minimised the impact of the opposition and private media campaign to blame the government for the problems in the electricity and water sectors.

Far from fulfilling right-wing predictions that falling oil prices would result in a fall of the government’s fortunes, Chavez has continued his push to redistribute wealth to the poor — and increased moves against capital and corruption.

This is occurring alongside important street mobilisations supporting the government (ignored by the international media, which gave prominent coverage to small opposition student riots). There are new steps to increase the transfer of power to the people, such as incorporating the grassroots communal councils further into governing structures.

In November, Chavez announced interventions into eight banks found to be involved in corrupt dealings. A majority were nationalised and merged with a state bank to form the Bicentenary Bank. Together with the Bank of Venezuela, nationalised in 2007, the state now controls 25% of the banking sector — the largest single bloc.

Nearly 30 bankers were charged and face trial over the corruption allegations. Significantly, a number of these had been closely aligned with the government. One of them, Ricardo Fernandez Barrueco, was a relatively unknown entrepreneur in the food sector who rose up the ranks of the business elite to own four banks and 29 Venezuelan companies.

Much of this meteoric rise was due to his ties with a section of the Chavez government, which provided him with generous contracts to supply government-subsidised Mercal food stores with produce and transportation. This earned Fernandez the nickname the “Czar of Mercal”.

The arrest of another banker over corruption allegations, Arne Chacon, led to the resignation of his brother Jessie Chacon as Chavez’s science minister.

State institutions, militants of the Chavez-led United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the National Guard have also moved to tackle price speculation following the January 8 decision to devalue the local currency, the bolivar. More than 1000 shops were temporary shutdown for price speculation in the first week after the announcement.

On February 13, Chavez announced that the government had come to an agreement with French company Casino to buy out 80% of its shares in the CADA supermarket chain, which has 35 outlets across the country. Together with the recently nationalised Exito supermarket chain and the mass importation of various essential goods, the government is moving to take up a much larger share of the retail and distribution sector.

The devaluation of Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, means imported goods have become more expensive, lowering workers’ purchasing power. To compensate, the government decreed in January a 25% increase in the minimum wage (10% to be implemented in March and 15% in September).

Government sources told Green Left Weekly it is also studying a further wage increase and steps towards establishing a state monopoly over foreign trade.

Grassroots organising, youth

Despite the violent protests and slander campaign, a January poll by the Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis (IVAD — generally accepted as one of Venezuela’s least biased polling companies) found more than 58% of Venezuelans continue to approve of Chavez’s presidency. The same poll also found 41.5% believed the opposition should have a National Assembly majority, compared to 49.5% who didn’t.

Some 32.6% said they would vote for pro-revolution candidates, 20.8% for the opposition and an important 33.1% for “independents”. That 33.1% will undoubtedly shrink by September. The question is whether this section will abstain (as in the 2007 constitutional referendum) or the revolutionary forces can organise themselves to win them over and deal a decisive blow to the right.

Three massive pro-revolution demonstrations have been held already this year, dwarfing the small, but violent, opposition protests.

A new grouping of revolutionary youth organsations, the Bicentenary National Youth Front, has also been created to organise the pro-revolution majority of youth and students. The injection of organised youth into the revolution is vital for its future. This is needed, as Chavez noted in his February 12 speech to a mass demonstration of students in Caracas, to tackle the serious problems of reformism and bureaucratism that hamper the revolution.

Chavez has argued against those sectors of the revolutionary camp who insist it is possible to advance by strengthening the private sector and wooing capitalists. Chavez has repeatedly said the “national bourgeoisie” has no interest in advancing the process of change.

Chavez has emphasised the “class struggle” is at the heart of this process.

He said it was vital to combat the inefficiency and bureaucracy of the state structures inherited from previous governments that hold back and sabotage the process. “We have to finish off demolishing the old structures of the bourgeois state and create the new structures of the proletarian state.”

To help achieve this, the government has encouraged the creation of 184 communes across Venezuela. Communes are made up of a number of communal councils and other social organisations, bodies directly run and controlled by local communities. Chavez has referred to the communes as the “building blocks” of the new state, in which power is intended to be progressively transferred to the organised people.

The recent creation of peasant militias, organised for self-defence by poor farmers against large landowner violence, is also important.

However, the biggest challenge is the continued construction of the PSUV, a mass party with millions of still largely passive members, as a revolutionary instrument of the masses. In its extraordinary congress, which began in November and continues meeting on weekends until April, debates are occurring among the 772 elected delegates. Differences have arisen between those who support a more moderate reformist approach and those arguing for a revolutionary path.

An important debate is over whether to back Chavez’s call for a new international organisation to unite revolutionary forces globally to strengthen the fight for “socialism of the 21th century”.

The debates also include whether party members will elect National Assembly candidates, or whether this important decision would be left in the hands of a select committee (as more conservative forces prefered).

After the decision to hold primary elections for candidates was announced, Chavez said on February 11: “I have confidence in the people, I have confidence in the grassroots, they will not defraud us.”

[Federico Fuentes is a member of the Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal Caracas bureau. This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #827, February 24, 2010.]

 

Venezuela: Mass student protest for Chavez

By Kiraz Janicke, Caracas

February 19, 2010 -- Tens of thousands of students rallied on February 12 in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, in a show of support for President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution.

The demonstration, to celebrate the “Day of Youth”, occurred just weeks after violent protests by hundreds of right-wing opposition students in support of private television channel RCTV made international headlines.

Robert Serra, an activist from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela-Youth (J-PSUV) said the rally was “a clear demonstration of where the majority of the youth and student sectors of the country stand”. Dani Valles, a student councilor from the University of the East, said: “We are on the side of the people and we’re not going to let the oligarchy destabilise Venezuela.”

From the early hours of morning, students gathered at the Bolivarian University of venezuela. To the sounds of music and chants of “Chavez is here to stay” and “Expropriation, confiscation, the means of production for the people”, students danced and marched 10 kilometres to the Miraflores Presidential Palace, where Chavez spoke.

The president called on young people to assume a leading role in the revolution, saying its future depended on them. He called on them to be critical and to tackle bureaucracy, which he said posed the biggest threat to the revolution. Chavez pointed to the example of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution last century.

Chavez referred to the recent, much smaller, opposition student protests. He said the opposition students were being used by local and US elites to attempt “regime change” in Venezuela. Venezuela’s sharp class divisions and political polarisation are reflected in the competing pro- and anti-revolution student movements.

The experimental universities, the new “Bolivarian” universities and the “social missions” providing free education to all ages together account for about 700,000 students from mainly poorer and working-class backgrounds. These students strongly support Chavez and the revolution.

However, most elite “autonomous” (nominally state-run) and private universities, which account for about 300,000 students from largely middle- and upper-class backgrounds, are dominated by right-wing US-backed groups.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

 

By Kiraz Janicke, Caracas

February 22, 2010-- Venezuelanalysis.com – Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez announced the creation of a new peasant militia, which will form part of the national Bolivarian Armed Forces (FAB) and also enacted the new Law of the Federal Government Council, during a ceremony to commemorate 151 years since the Federal War led by peasant leader General Ezequiel Zamora on February 20.

The peasant militia will be responsible for protecting poor farmers from mercenary groups organised and financed by rich ranchers and wealthy landowners, Chavez explained in his weekly column, “Chavez’s Lines” on February 21. More than 300 peasant leaders and activists have been murdered since the government introduced the Law on Land and Agricultural Development in 2001 and launched a program of agrarian reform.

Some 1505 farms totalling 2.5 million hectares have been recovered and redistributed under the agrarian reform program. However, “The landowning oligarchy launched a violent agenda against the rescue of the commons”, Chavez said.

Manuel Heredia, president of the National Ranchers Federation, responded, “As an institution, we have never sought paramilitary groups to protect us”, but he did not rule out the possibility that individual members maybe be involved in financing paramilitary groups, saying, “If one of our members is proven guilty of a crime, then they should pay for their crime.”

Chavez argued, “Faced with the backlash against the peasants through an escalation of attacks, sabotage and paid assassinations by the most retrograde forces in our society, the duty of the Bolivarian national state and the revolutionary government is to protect the peasantry: to defend them with all means at its disposal.”

“The peasant militia has been created to fulfil that duty, placing emphasis on the protagonism and responsibility of the peasantry as a collective subject in function of their own defence”, the president continued.

Rebutting opposition allegations that the new militias are paramilitary groups, Chavez explained that the peasant militias will form part of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, and “therefore, do not undermine it, nor are they intended to supplant it” and will be “absolutely regulated by the law”, adding, “What bothers and annoys those who spread such lies, is that the armed forces have been reunited with their original identity: the people in arms.”

The peasant militia will also assist the regular army “against any foreign aggressor”, wrote Chavez, who has warned that the US military could invade Venezuela in order to seize control of its vast oil reserves.

“We have no plans to attack anyone, but we will turn Venezuela into a country that is able to defend every last inch of its territory”, the president told thousands of supporters on February 21.

For Chavez, the peasant militias “are just a first sign of developing a popular armed force to safeguard our integrity and our sovereignty” and are “expressions of the new communal state; an integral part of the new structures of communal power that we are building”.

The peasant militias, which are active in rural areas, will complement the primarily urban-based Bolivarian Militias, which were incorporated into the reform of the Armed Forces Law that came into force on October 22, 2009.

Major general and defence minister Carlos Mata Figueroa described the peasant militias, which began training in the state of Cojedes last week, as a “strategic arm for the defence of our republic”.

During the ceremony on February 20, which was attended by a contingent of the new peasant militia, Chavez also signed the new Law of the Federal Government Council, which aims to decentralise a range of powers away from traditional municipal and state authorities and transfer those powers to grassroots communal councils, involving more people in the evaluation and approval of financial resources.

The Federal Government Council will consist of elected governors, mayors, members of the executive, as well as spokespeople elected in popular elections and representatives of the communal councils.

The new Law of the Federal Government Council “is a powerful tool for the construction of a socialist homeland … to give shape to a new geometry of popular, political, social, communal and military power” and to create a new organ of “revolutionary power to continue fighting against the oligarchy and empire, to continue building the independence of our nation”, Chavez declared.

As part of the ceremony Chavez also unveiled a new stature of Zamora in El Calvario Park in western Caracas and renamed the park, Ezequiel Zamora Park.

 

I
February 21, 2010 -- "Zamora lives, the struggle continues," is the slogan that lives among our people. There could not be a more propitious framework for enacting the Organic Law of Federal Government than the act of unveiling the statue of Sovereign People’s General Ezequiel Zamora at the park El Calvario in Caracas. Accompanying us on this bright day are representatives of community councils across the country, together with the Legislature. 

It is 151 years since the start of the Federal War (1859-1863): it was February 20, 1859 when Tirso Salaverría commanded the Battle of Coro and then raised the cry of Federation. We couldn’t give Zamora a greater tribute then, than giving our people a law to help with their definitive liberation. 
 

II 

"I always put the community before the individual," wrote our liberator Simón Bolívar on October 28, 1828 to General Antonio José de Sucre. This is the spirit and driving force of our current Bolivarianism: the communal and social are foremost above all things. Simon Rodriguez was right when he said in his American Societies in 1828: "You will see that there are two kinds of politics: popular and governmental: and that the people are more political than their governments.” 

Today we can say that we have a highly politicised society, in the true sense and meaning of the term, and that our Bolivarian Revolution is a direct consequence of such politicisation, whose point of rupture was on 27 February 1989, the popular rebellion that on Saturday reaches its twenty-first anniversary. Remember what the great Venezuelan revolutionary Kleber Ramirez said in the documentary 'History of February 4 (1998) - back in August 1992 in the purest Robinsonian spirit: "... the time has come for communities to assume the powers of state, which will lead administratively to the total transformation of the Venezuelan state and socially to the real exercise of sovereignty by society through communal powers.” 

These are the reasons why this Saturday 20 February, we have enacted and launched the new Organic Law of the Federal Government Council. With it we further open the door to advancing in the distribution of power in the hands of the people, and to achieving a more efficient and effective state, and, above all, unity to fulfil its functions under the constitution. 

Over and over again I have said: the Venezuelan territorial reality must be transformed and, therefore, it is necessary to configure a new geometry of power that becomes a popular, communal and socialist restructuring of the geopolitics of the nation. 

By socialism we mean unlimited democracy, following in this sense the great Portuguese theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos. From this comes our firm conviction that the best and most radically democratic of the options for defeating bureaucracy and corruption is the construction of a communal state which is able to test an alternative institutional structure at the same time as it permanently reinvents itself. 

With this law, we must begin in earnest and in reality, as Garcia Bacca would say, to disassemble the entire corroded colonial scaffolding on which a territorial organisation was erected and that was intended to smash national unity to pieces. And of course people's power will play a major role; I would say an essential role, in the radical transformation of our country. 
 

III 

Since the Land and Agricultural Development Law came into force in 2001, the landowning oligarchy has launched a violent agenda against the rescue of common land and the full exercise of rights enshrined by the Land Law and the Constitution itself. Faced with the backlash against the peasants via an escalation of attacks, sabotage and paid assassinations by the most retrograde forces in our society, the non-delegable duty of the Bolivarian national state and the revolutionary government is to protect the peasantry: to defend it with all means at its disposal. The peasant militia has been created to fulfil that duty, placing emphasis on the protagonism and responsibility of the peasantry as a collective subject in function of their own defence. 

The first exercises of the peasant militia, that we did in El Pao, Cojedes state last Friday, are just an initial indication of developing a popular armed force to safeguard our integrity and our sovereignty in the fields of Venezuela. Who else but the community knows best the dynamics, activities, failures and essential aspects of safety in their locality? This is the same with geographical, spiritual and material issues. 

The peasant militia and the Bolivarian Militia as a whole are not paramilitary forces, as the brainy analysts always try to suggest, even less so if we conceive of such a word within the reactionary Colombian semantics. On the contrary, the Bolivarian Militia (a body absolutely governed by the Law), as well as community councils, are expressions of the new communal state, an integral part of the new structure of the communal power we are building. 

The Bolivarian Militias are a component of the Bolivarian Armed Forces and, therefore, do not undermine it, even less is there any intention to supplant it. What bothers and annoys those who spread such lies is that the Armed Forces have been reunited with their original identity: the people in arms.

The Peasant Militia today embodies a transcendent principle: defending the homeland, our land. Defence against any outside aggressor, but also against the internal aggressor who has been protected, for too long, in a real state of impunity that has counted with the venality of certain courts of the Republic which safeguard and protect the landowners and criminalise peasants and farmers who want to enforce the Land Law. 

On 15 February, 191 years passed since the memorable speech at Angostura. The Revolutionary War had not ended but the words of our Liberator embodied the recapture of our identity as a nation and the libertarian stamp was put on Venezuela. Let’s recall these brilliant lines which confirm the reason for our peasant militias, our Zamoran militias: "The chains of slavery have been broken, and Venezuela has been surrounded by new sons and daughters, grateful sons and daughters who have converted the tools of their captivity into weapons of freedom. Yes, those who once were slaves, are free, those who once were enemies of a stepmother, are now advocates of a homeland. " 

Let’s go, with Zamora, with Robinson and Bolivar, towards a communal state!

Towards socialism!

Venceremos!

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Canadian Meetings Salute 10 Years of Venezuelan Revolution

February 22, 2010

Two Caracas-based activists, Federico Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke, will speak in Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, Victoria and Vancouver between February 26 and March 7, in a tour organized by the Centre for Social Justice and the Venezuela We Are with You Coalition in Toronto.

Their tour takes place at a decisive turning point in the Venezuelan revolutionary process, as U.S.-backed rightist forces escalate attacks on the movement of working people and the Bolivarian government.

****************
Related Article
Venezuela’s Revolution Faces Crucial Battles (above)
by Federico Fuentes

****************

During the eleven years since Hugo Chavez was elected as President of Venezuela, his country has become a focus of hope on a world scale. At the Copenhagen climate conference, Venezuela helped lead the countries calling for international social and ecological justice.

Throughout these years, popular participation and control has been the strength and promise of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. The Fuentes-Janick tour will focus on the gains of the people’s movement and the dangers and challenges it faces today.

Federico Fuentes is an associate of the Centro Internacional Miranda, an independent agency funded by Venezuela’s Ministry of Popular Power for Higher Education in Caracas. Together with Marta Harnecker, he leads two CIM study projects: “Political Instruments for the 21st Century” and “Popular Participation in Public Management.”

Kiraz Janicke is a journalist for Venezuelanalysis.com, the foremost independent English-language source of news on Venezuela. She is editor of the Peru en Movimiento website and a member of the Caracas bureau of Green Left Weekly.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FUENTES-JANICKE TOUR:

Toronto

  • Friday, February 26, 7:00 pm
    Public Forum: Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution: Profile of a Peoples’ Movement
    Koffler House Rom 108 – 569 Spadina Ave. (North of College St.)
    Speakers: Federico Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke
  • Saturday, Feb 27, 9:30 am – 5 pm
    Teach-In: Venezuela’s Revolution: The Second Decade
    Ten panels on topics related to Venezuela, with 25 speakers, including Fuentes and Janicke.
    Sidney Smith Building, Room 2117 — 100 St. George St. (North of College St.)
    Donation: $10 or what you can
  • Wednesday, March 2, 5:00 pm – 8 pm
    Seminar: Popular Education in Venezuela
    Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, room 7-119

For more information, email: vzteachin@hotmail.com

Kingston

  • Monday, March 1, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm
    Indigenous Resistance and Popular Sovereignty in Bolivia and Venezuela
    Public Meeting with Kiraz Janicke
    Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, 146 Barrie St.

For more information, email: vzteachin@hotmail.com

Ottawa

  • Monday, March 1, 7:30 pm
    Public Forum: Venezuela’s Alliances for Sovereignty & Development: A Participant*s Report
    PSAC building, 233 Gilmour Street (at Metcalfe)
    Speaker: Federico Fuentes
  • Tuesday March 2
    Federico Fuentes speaks at University of Ottawa

For more information, email: rfidler_8@sympatico.ca

Montreal

  • Thursday-Friday, March 4-5
    Public Meetings with Kiraz Janicke

For more information, email: svaud097@gmail.com

Victoria

  • March 3, 7:30pm
    Public Forum: Venezuela’s Revolution – The Second Decade
    BCGEU Hall — 2994 Douglas
    Speaker: Federico Fuentes

For more information, email: rogerannis@telus.net

Vancouver

  • March 5, 7:00 pm
    Public forum: Hope For Haiti In Latin America
    Vancouver Community College, 250 W. Pender St., Room 420
    Speakers:
    -Federico Fuentes, Centro Internacional Miranda
    -Jon Beasley-Murray, Professor of Latin America Studies, University of British Columbia
    -Andrea Pinochet, Haiti Solidarity BC
    -others to be announced
  • March 7, 2:00 pm
    Public Forum: Bolivia and Venezuela’s message: ‘Change the system, Not the climate!’
    Unitarian Church of Canada, 949 West 49th Ave at Oak St. (west of 49th Ave Canada Line station)
    Speakers:
    -Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s representative at the United Nations and lead spokesperson on climate change at the Copenhagen Summit
    -Federico Fuentes, Centro Internacional Miranda

For more information, email: rogerannis@telus.net

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