pm, Wednesday, April 6, 2005
is a location change)
Side Day Nursery
Louis MO 63118
Will Venezuela be the next country invaded by the
Come see and discuss the 76 minute documentary film:
Venezuela Bolivariana: People and Struggle of the Fourth World War.
A panel discussion will include:
Political Science Professor, Webster University
Missouri Green Party, Universal African Peoples Organization
Green Party of St. Louis
21st Ward Committeewoman
Sponsored by the Gateway
Green Alliance and the Universal African Peoples Organization. For
more information call 314-727-8554.
Venezuelan's Bolivarian Revolution in Year Six
by Daniel Hellinger
In 1982, a Venezuelan Lt. Colonel, Hugo Chávez,
and a group of comrades swore an oath to one another to replace the
government of the day with one more faithful to the ideas of Venezuela's
great independence leader, Simón Bolívar. They were angry
at the corruption and waste of the country's huge oil resources. Although
Venezuela was an electoral democracy, they felt that the leaders of
the two major political parties had made elec-tions meaningless.
The 1980s were a time of economic hardship for most
Venezuelans. After a decade long oil boom, prices had col-lapsed. In
1989, the population revolted when President Carlos Andrés Pérez
tried to impose a set of austerity measures demanded by the International
Monetary Fund. In 1992, Chávez's military conspiracy tried but
failed to overthrew Pérez. Although polls showed Venezuelans
wanted no part of dictatorship, mass demonstrations broke out in solidarity
with Chávez, who claimed his goal was to rescue Venezuela's democracy
from the corrupt politicians.
By December 1998, Chávez, having served a
short time in prison after the coup, had built an electoral movement
that not only put him in the presidency but gave him the power to re-write
the Constitution. The new charter renamed the country the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela. Chávez also used his power to lead a reinvigorated
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and put the state
oil company back under control of the government.
These political changes and diplomatic success laid
the base for Chávez to announce, under authority granted by the
elected National Assembly, a sweeping series of decrees that began a
process of urban and rural land reform, raised taxes and royalties paid
by foreign oil companies operating in Venezuela, created popular banks
to stimulate coopera-tives, and several other popular programs. These
measures galvanized his opponents, mostly owners of the media, oil executives,
business owners, the old political class, and some labor leaders associated
with the former era. In response, Chávez launched a series of
missions, some led by the army, aimed at improving housing, education
and health in the barrios. Some 15,000 Cuban medical personnel helped
with the health project.
The opposition, supported by the United States, tried
to oust the president through strikes, civil disobedience, and even
a coup. The coup, in April 2002, failed when poor Venezuelans and loyal
military units rallied to the president's side, after he was held prisoner
for two days. Finally, the opposition tried a legal route - a recall
election. But on August 15, 2004, Chávez won 59% of the vote
and repelled the challenge.
Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution enjoyed enhanced
legitimacy as it entered 2005. The economic outlook is promis-ing, though
sustaining growth at the estimated pace of 16% may be difficult. The
traditional opposition is divided and demoralized. Now grassroots activists
are impatient for the president to make good on the more participatory
democ-racy that he promised when the new Constitution was written in
1999, and there are signs that the president has heeded the call.
High oil prices have helped economic recovery. In
the longer run, the success of the Bolivarian Revolution depends upon
dividends from public investment in human capital (health and education)
and grassroots economic initiatives, e.g., weaning Venezuelans off Big
Macs and onto traditional arepas and cachapas, made from corn meal.
Emphasis is being placed upon creating cooperatives producing agricultural
and light manufacturing goods, attracting people back into farming in
the countryside, and expanding industries (petrochemicals) linked to
the oil industry. These bold ex-periments may send the economy crashing
in a few years or make Venezuela an alternative economic model for the
On the other side of the coin, some administrators,
especially those drawn from the military, have engaged in cor-ruption
or displayed an authoritarian streak. Recent threats made by an oil
minister and a military commander against a prominent ecologist who
has criticized coal mining operations show the dangers.
Although the chavistas nearly swept regional elections
in October, some political vulnerability was exposed. Levels of abstention
rose from 30 to 54%. Many grassroots activists who delivered "no"
votes on August 15 were angry that candidates for state and local offices
were imposed from above at the direction of Vice President José
Vicente Rangel. Chávez's party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR),
promises to do better for municipal elections and congressional elections
later this year. In February, the MVR announced a system of quotas designed
to ensure that half of all candi-dates are women and to respect the
wishes of community leaders.
Until recently, most of Chávez's programs
have re-directed oil earnings toward the poor, but not touched accumu-lated
wealth. Now, with urban and rural land reform, regulation of the private
media, creation of a cooperative sector to compete with private businesses,
extension of free medical services to sectors served by private doctors,
and other current initiatives, chavismo is clashing even more with propertied
There are increased signs of popular organizations
taking matters into their own hands. Workers recently seized the VENEPAL
paper factory in the industrial city of Valencia. There have been reports
of land seizures in other parts of the country. To this point, the government
has backed the workers. In Chile during the Allende years (1970-1973),
these kinds of seizures led to further political polarization and economic
disruptions. Venezuela's oil-fueled economy probably is less vulnerable
to economic pressure, but the United States shows signs of hoping to
exploit tensions and have Chávez meet the same fate as Allende,
who was deposed and died in a coup in 1973.
Chávez is fast becoming a revolutionary icon,
a worldwide symbol of resistance to neoliberal globalization and per-haps
the most popular and influential leader in Latin America, exceeding
even Fidel Castro in these respects. That Chávez has continued
to advance a revolutionary agenda rather than opportunistically consolidating
his own personal power is to be admired, but there are several cautions
to keep in mind.
Opportunistic elements remain within chavismo. Some
recently elected governors and mayors are politicians who simply shifted
from the old, discredited parties of the past to the MVR. Although there
are many dedicated community leaders in the chavista ranks, some Bolivarian
leaders are practicing the discredited cronyism of the past, making
mem-bership in Bolivarian Circles a condition for getting small loans
or food subsidies. There is a danger that the revolution could ossify
and become little more than a patronage machine with new faces.
The army remains a major component of chavismo. In
Zulia, human rights activists were joined by local demo-cratic leaders,
supporters themselves of Chávez, to call upon the army to stop
threatening local environmentalists con-cerned about plans to increase
coal mining in the Andes.
And then there is the murky relationship between
Chávez and the FARC guerrillas of Colombia. During his period
in the political wilderness in the 1990s, there is little doubt that
Chávez enjoyed good relations with the FARC. The tactics of the
FARC include kidnapping and taxation of narcotics trafficking. The FARC
is guilty of well-documented human rights abuses, although not on the
scale of the right wing death squads and Colombian military. Recently,
Venezuelan police hired by Colombian operatives kidnapped the FARC foreign
minister off the streets of Caracas, causing severe strains in relations
between the two countries, something that the United States hopes to
The Venezuelan government's human rights record is
remarkably positive given the irresponsible behavior of the opposition
and the extreme political polarization. However, there is little doubt
that high oil prices have cushioned the economy and capitalized the
social programs that are improving people's lives. The challenge is
make these programs sustainable without oil subsidies and to preserve
the impressive democratic innovations of the Bolivarian Revolution.
is a Professor of Political Science at Webster University.