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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 33, August 9, 2014

Our Country and Our Times: Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela

Friday 8 August 2014

by Saumya Deojain

The following is an account of the programme held at Indore on Sandarbh’s annual day where Venezuelan 

Ambassador Ms Milena spoke about the Bolivarian Revolution at length.

It was June 28, 2014 and the venue was the Indore Press Club. The evening started with tea, exhibition and music. The last picture of Chavez along with other Latin American revolutionary legends and their quotes surrounded a bookstall outside the hall where people slowly trickled in. Sandarbh had organised on its 15th annual day an interactive session with the Venezuelan Ambassador, Ms Milena Santana Ramirez, and the First Secretary, Richards Espinoza. They were to speak on “Our Country and Our Times: Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela”.

Sandarbh is an informal group of likeminded Left-leaning intellectuals and activists which developed as s Marxist study circle. Vineet Tiwari, a member of Sandarbh, informed the slowly growing audience that in celebration of Venezuela and Latin America’s rich culture a compilation of songs and videos had been prepared. It was then, with the lush landscapes of Venezuela in the backdrop, that one realised that the notes of the guitar playing outside were the native tune of the country we had gathered to hear about. The audience, still swelling, became silent when the video of Ernesto “Che” Guevara came with “Hasta Siempre, Comman-dante”. The black and white clip began with the strikingly handsome Che looking very shy and reciting a revolutionary poem to his comrades. Then followed the song which was a farewell song to Che when he was leaving Cuba to foster revolution in Congo and Bolivia. The song is about the fierce spirit of Che and how it continues to inspire people in the revolution. “Hasta, Siempre...” was followed by another revolutionary song made popular by Pete Seeger—“Guantanamera”. “Guantanamera” is a song adapted from Jose Marti’s poem “Versos Sencillos” which invokes the love, compassion and solidarity with the people of the earth. Thereafter we listened to the last speech given by Commandante Chavez and heard him singing. Chavez told us through the song that “Those who die for the cause of life cannot be called dead.” The last song of the evening was an Urdu song written by Makhdoom Mohiuddin—“Ye Jang hai Jange azadi”—which was sung during our freedom struggle. It was sung for the audience to bridge the spirit of revolution of both countries, India and Venezuela.

The music session ended with the audience ready to fully engage in a discussion with the ambassador, with Jaya Mehta as the English translator and mediator.

Ms Milena started her speech by telling us that for a revolution to take place, there is a need for a great leadership which can dream of a new world that enables full development of the human potential, both individual and collective. But for any revolution to be truly successful and remain alive, it is vital that people—the common people—are completely involved in the revolutionary process. She said that the vision of the Bolivarian revolutionary movement is to provide dignity to the people, which earlier they did not have. It was important to give basic facilities like food, housing, water and yes, music!

“Since the days of Chavez, the government is trying to do this through various ways. A major gain of the revolutionary process was writing a new Constitution which ensured equal place to all marginalised sections in the country. Making a new Constitution was a partcipatory process, which we all enjoyed because we got to know our fellow country people’s aspirations directly. One special feature of the new Constitution was that the work of the women who chose to stay at home and take care of the family was accounted for and women were to be paid for this work. They were being paid because the value which they add to the society is of great significance.” It was later mentioned that the Venezuelan Government had also taken an initiative which can be translated as

“mothers of the neighbourhood”.

Here, women who stayed at home would take care of children of working parents. This was meant to reduce the burden of working women and at the same time empower women who stay at home by recognizing them as productive citizens of the country.

Later, in the discussion First Secretary Richards Espinoza gave an example of how some basic needs were being delivered to as many people as possible. Rice was subsidized from an approximate Rs 36/kilo to Rs 6/kilo so that the standards of livings wouldn’t plummet to deplorable conditions for anyone. A network of ‘Community Councils’ was set up in all localities to ensure the smooth functioning of the subsidy schemes.

In the education sector, free education is made available till college level—which has been highly successful because of Venezuela’s historically high literacy rate. The focus on secondary and tertiary sector has been increased. In order to incorporate more people into the educated class several steps have been taken for establishing schools for working adults that can take classes in weekends or in the evening.

The funding of all this comes from the Venezuelan Government’s revenues collected mostly through oil exports. With the nationali-sation of oil and other important industries the government has been able to harness funds to get basic facilities to all people. In an answer to those who claim that oil is the reason why Venezuela has been successful in implementing reforms, Ms Milena said that “oil cannot do anything by itself. It is human labour which can make a natural resource a productive asset. The Venezuelan Government realises that it is important to produce oil so that the standard of living of every citizen can be made acceptable.”

“This ideology based on empowering the masses is the central idea of the Bolivarian Revolution. It is in the will of the people and is being carried out in full force even after Chavez,” the ambassador of Venezuela said.

The reason that this movement of the people in Venezuela has been successful is because there have been similar movements in many countries in Latin America. They have been different in nature as the situations in different countries differ—be it the resources or the ethnic landscape. For example, Bolivia has a large tribal population, and it has changed its Constitution in ways different from Venezuela. Ecuador has its own specificities and accordingly demands its own variant of development initiatives. Ms Melina emphasised that “there is no uniform model of development. Every country is free to evolve a model best suited for its specific requirements. At the same time, in order to combat imperialism, several countries in Latin America have come together to form an alternative system of trade, checks and balances, security and media.”

Ms Milena talked of ALBA(Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America—Peoples’ Trade Treaty), CELAC Community of Latin American and Caribbean States as trade associations that give an opportunity for countries like Cuba and Venezuela to cope with the abrasive trade barriers put up by the US ALBA, a group of nine Latin American countries, has managed to use a separate currency, sucre, as a means to reduce the dependency on the dollar.

The process of integration in Latin America kept the spirit of revolution alive. In the question and answer session, Ms Milena gave an example of how Venezuela supplies oil to other Latin American countries at subsidised rates. In return, other countries have also made waivers to Venezuela. Cuba sent doctors to Venezuela to help building a medical structure which reached out to each and every citizen of the country.

The

unaSUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas)is another body made for Latin American countries which helps in security issues. It enables dialogue among the member states, with its citizens, with third parties, as the means for conflict resolution. The ambassador said that the riots or protests against the Venezuelan Government in the beginning of 2014 were resolved by unaSUR which mediated between the country’s pressure groups and the government. UnaSUR, in this way, has been used as an impartial observer and mediator between countries and groups within countries.

Another unifying force in Latin America is the media channel

teleSUR (La Nueva Televisora del Sur) which has been giving consistent impartial and unbiased reporting of incidents all over Latin America. It’s a channel that runs both in Spanish and Portuguese which are languages all Latin American citizens know. There are recent efforts to make broadcasts in English as well for greater outreach to the world. TeleSUR also has its own website in Spanish. Because of teleSUR, all Latin Americans can easily access information about important developments across the continent.

With the Bolivarian Revolution entrenching itself and Latin American bodies consolidating their functions, things are changing. Challenges are there. There is heavy inflation, there is crime and there is still class inequality. But there is a will in the people who are getting more political and economic power. Challenges will be faced and problems will be resolved. The problem of corruption exists but Ms Milena said that “what has been asked in India to make an independent Lokpal to create sufficient checks and balances in the political system already exists in Venezuela. This is because the Constit-ution demands it.”

Venezuela saw some important constitutional changes when Chavez came to power. Richards told us that before Chavez, citizens could only vote for the President, while the President would choose his Chief Ministers (Ministers assigned to govern different regions). This made the people distant from the political working of the country. Chavez made a constitutional amendment that these Ministers would have separate elections. This process of decentralisation was integral to getting people politically empowered and involved in decision-making. A question came from the audience: what would happen if there was a discord between the President and a Chief Minister? Both the First Secretary and Ambassador said: the decision would only be one—to go back to the people and to go finally with the peoples’ will.

Another question was asked about the youth in Venezuela. Were they as enamored by the West like the Indian youth? Ms Milena answered that “while there is always the glamour of the West, and often many of the youth do travel to America to pursue higher studies or something else, but they mostly come back. This is because they have seen what the Chavez Government and the current Maduro Government is doing for them. They see the difference between the methods in the West and their homeland—and they mostly prefer to come back.”

After answering questions on land reforms and equality of wages for different sexes in the affirmative, Ms Milena ended the session by talking about El Sistema. “El Sistema has been one of the most endearing parts of social integration in Venezuela. El Sistema was started in 1975 but has been given maximum support and encouragement since Chavez came to power. It is a programme to expose every child, especially impoverished children, to classical music. It has been used to bring children out of crime and drug abuse, as an outlet of expression.” She gave instances of how children coming from all walks of life are very diligently learning music and appreciating it. So much so that a relative of Ms Milena was now teaching his grandmother how to play the violin! Music has come out of the discourse limited to the elite and is now percolating in the consciousness of Venezuelans. It is a beautiful process of integ-ration. And changes the meaning of necessities we ordinarily associate with in this materialistic society.

Despite all the slanders being hurled at the Venezuelan administration by the mainstream media, by the end of the discussion, there was clearly hope. Along with veterans in the audience there were several young people including this writer, and it was an uplifting and inspiring experience. I was told there were many basic differences between the people of Venezuela and the culture of India, but this discussion organised by Sandarbh left seeds of hope which won’t easily be blown away by the winds of pessimism and suspicion. And that, I think, is saying a lot.

Saumya Deojain is a student of Economics and Theatre. She studies at the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi. She can be contacted at:sandarbh. 2014@gmail.com