A Revolution Rooted in the People
The 2015 Venezuela delegation left Korea on November 17. It arrived two days later and visited Caracas, the capital city, and Cumana. During its 13 days, the delegation witnessed the revolutionary process. The trip’s goals were: to observe the political, economic and social changes after Chavez’s election victory, introduce its lessons to Korea, participate in the celebration for the 500th anniversary of Cumana, and build solidarity by disseminating the Venezuelan reality amidst imperialist media attacks. Despite Venezuela’s difficult conditions, the Bolivarian revolution continues to progress since its inception when Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998. Meeting Venezuelan Independence Heroes
The delegation first visited the National Pantheon where 142 independence fighters are enshrined in statues and their remains or, in its place, soil from their hometown is kept. Painted on the ceiling are images of Simon Bolivar’s birth, the independence movement, and his death after fighting for the independence of Venezuela and other Latin American countries. Among the many other heroes were Francisco Miranda who established the strategies for the independence movement prior to Simon Bolivar; Jose Gregorio who was a former president and liberated slaves; Ezequiel Zamora and Crisostomo Falcon who fought for land reform. We would encounter their faces and names in the names of social missions and murals throughout cities.
Connected to the National Pantheon, is the Mausoleum - the final resting place for Simon Bolivar. His remains were kept in the National Pantheon until 2011 when they were moved to the completed Mausoleum. Simon Bolivar’s coffin lies in the middle. On its right are the flags of the six nations he liberated. On the left is Venezuela’s flag. Soldiers stand guard 24 hours a day.
Meeting and learning about Venezuela’s national heroes was a great way to start our trip: It helped us learn Venezuela’s spirit and history. Venezuelans were honoring the spirit and history of those that protected their sovereignty and fought not only for their country but for that of others as well. Furthermore, it symbolized what Venezuela is trying to build today: relationships based on solidarity and respect.
In addition to homes, the socialist cities - Caribia (20,000 houses) City and Hugo Chavez City(30,000 houses) - are equipped with medical facilities, schools, and small businesses Victims of natural disasters were the first to move into these cities. The cities were a manifestations of the alternative society that Venezuela wants to build.
In both cities, residents formed community councils to decide local agendas and autonomously implement policies. People live in houses - constructed through the housing mission (Mission Vivienda) - for free for the first three years and then pay it off little by little. The cost is a hundredth that of houses in the market. The delegation also visited an elementary school, a textile factory, and a medical center in Caribia City, met leaders of the community council, and watched a music performance by community children as part of the El Sistema program.
Breakfast, lunch, snacks, as well as notebooks, school bags, and pencils were provided for free in the elementary schools. At the back of the school, students cultivated vegetables in the little garden plot. The produce was used in the school kitchen. Since 2011, the community had operated a textile factory. The city’s school uniforms and clothes are produced by machines and textiles provided by the government. The primary goal was to provide clothes to local residents amidst an economic war waged by the capitalists. The factory employed ten workers who were trained to master the whole process from design to production. The Integral Diagnostic Center(CDI) was where people could get free medical attention. It was operated for 24 hours and was equipped with patient and operating rooms, a dental clinic, a lab, an X-ray room, a sonogram room, a physiotherapy clinic, etc. Currently, all the doctors are Cuban. Venezuela’s free medical education is cultivating doctors so that eventually it can provide Venezuelan doctors for when the Cuban doctors return to their country.
The delegation witnessed people discussing local agendas and deciding how to use the resources within community councils in Hugo Chavez City. They were forming communes by bringing together community councils to discuss and solve issues covering larger communities. These activities are guaranteed by law and all the decisions are made through democratic discussions. In the early stage, some people participated in community councils to sabotage its activities. However, since the education and discussion processes were secured by law, it was not easy to do what they intended. Currently there are 14 community councils and the leaders of them meet every week to discuss forming a commune.
It is well known that the children from poor families also can get free music education through El Sistema program. When the delegation visited Hugo Chavez City, there was a scheduled performance by the children to perform at a local naval base. It was a powerful testament of the concrete ways that the revolution changed people’s lives: Kids in these communities were no longer marginalized from society.
Fighting Against the Economic War by Building Domestic Power
Wherever the delegation went, the economic war was mentioned as a very serious problem. The Venezuelan capitalists, in collusion with foreign imperialists, choose not to produce or to smuggle products out of Venezuela to create discontent and criticism against the government. As a result, there is a shortage of goods domestically leading to rampant speculation that impacts the poor the greatest. To respond to the economic war and drop in oil prices, the government and local communities work together and continue its social programs
Cultivo de Bolivar I is an urban agricultural center located in the middle of Caracas to supply food for people established in 2003. Its fruit, vegetables, and medicinal herbs are cultivated in a quarter hectar garden plot and are completely organic. Any citizen can come to plant and harvest. Every week workshops educate people about nutrition and urban agriculture. They gather seeds and share them with locals so that they too can start urban agriculture. Schools and government agencies are also encouraged to begin small garden plot around their buildings.
The delegation also visited the site of a 6-month old agricultural social enterprise in Cumana. Its goal was to change from the environmentally destructive monoculture of yuca to diversified agriculture. People had planted yuca exhausting the soil. Then, they simply moved to another land by cutting down its trees. The government provided communities with funds so that they could purchase equipment for processing food to generate greater income. Just as Hugo Chavez had prescribed, the government funds social enterprises and small farmers as alternatives to capitalism.
In addition to improving domestic production, there are social missions to provide food at a fair price, in contrast to the speculative one. PDVAL (along with Mercal and Bicentenario) is one of the distribution missions under the Ministry for Alimentation. When there was a capital strike in 2002, all the production stopped and the government could not provide people with basic necessities. From that time on, the government started this mission to supply basic necessities to people in a stable manner. Currently it plays a very important role in countering the economic war. People can buy vegetable oil and meat for 145 and 200 bolivares respectively but are sold in the market at 400 and 800~1,000 bolivares. Only 40% of PDVAL’s goods are produced within Venezuela; the rest are bought from private companies that import them. There are three PDVALs, one Bicentenario, and six Mercals in Cumana but they are not enough for people and more of them are needed.
Venezuela: Young Nation
Venezuela is a young country, with half its population with between 15 and 35 years old. Young people are very active in the revolution and are like an engine in the revolutionary process. The delegation met five youth organizations working in Cumana.
National University Students Association was formed in November 21 of 2015. It includes public and private universities. It is established for making students’ voices heard and to decide how to use the government’s resources for students. Previously, the university’s administration was in charge of distributing resources but, in many cases, it was not using them for what students really needed. Now, with the Association, they can distribute resources to the places where they are needed such as the cafeteria and library. Students from different schools can also solve problems together through exchanges and solidarity not just within Venezuela. Every year the Latin American Students Association brings together Latin American student leaders to discuss struggle and political issues.
We also met two middle and high school student organizations: National Middle/High School Student Association that allows exchange and solidarity regardless of political stance and Bolivarian Students Association for students that support the Bolivarian revolution. The first achievement for the Bolivarian Students Association was abolishing the university entrance exam because it discriminated against students from poor families with few opportunities for higher education. They also created scholarships for students from low-income families and a peer-to-peer education program.
The Eco-Socialist Movement discusses environmental issues and makes people more conscious about the environment in Venezuela where consumer culture is very strong due to capitalism. Groups in each region educate and promote environmental issues such as global warming and pollution. It is not easy overcoming the strong consumer culture and change people’s consciousness to protect the environment, but they keep active in their activities such as making informative videos on the climate change conference held in Paris.
The social mission for youth, Mission Robert Serra, is named after a late young congressman. The mission helps young people participate in social enterprises and several other missions. In particular, it supports young people in poor areas and single-parent families find jobs. They also reach out to young people who suffer from poverty, drug and alcohol addiction.
PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) Youth has more than 20,000 active members working in different sectors. In particular, their work is focused on organizing young people and building cadres. For the past 20 years, they advanced and protected the revolution. Now their tasks are to develop diversified industries and make them environmentally-friendly and not so oil-dependent.
Youth Organization Support Agency helps develop youth organizations until they can become independent. It also let young people participate in solving their problems. For instance, teenage pregnancy is a big issue in Venezuela. Youth Organization Support Agency tries to solve this problem through youth organization that can better understand young people. They also work with young people to develop ideas about social enterprises and evaluate them.
People’s Power: Community Councils and Communes
One of the most important factors in the Bolivarian revolution is local communities. To establish participatory democracy, communities have been restored centered around community councils and communes where people participate in discussions and decide the local issues by themselves. Chavez once emphasized the significance of building communes by saying “Communes or nothing”. In the process, protagonism of people has been growing.
The delegation visited Brasil Social Battle Room (where 35 community councils meet and discuss local agendas) to meet the community council leaders and staff from the Health department of Cumana City Hall. This is where the first community council was established in Venezuela. They are focused on solving and preventing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, teenage pregnancy, motorcycle accidents and food poisoning. Health committees in community councils investigate the conditions of residents and receive health education. They then go back to their villages to have workshop with villagers. To deal with teenage pregnancy, sex education is provided with contraceptive devices. Community council leaders work with health mission Barrio Adentro to change the eating habits of people with diabetes. Even though there is shortage of medicine and the Barrio Adentro doctors change periodically, the people’s conditions are continuously monitored by the health committee members. In other words individual health is not a personal burden but a community one.
Visiting Nelis Calle where a commune was established, we could see the agricultural mission and met UBCh members. Since domestic productivity is weak and food becomes a target of speculation in the economic war, the agricultural missions educate on the importance of food sovereignty and improving productivity. Also they provide food at “solidarity prices”. In addition, they research methods for people to easily cultivate food at home and grow seedlings to sell and distribute. In Nelis Calle, UBCh(Units of Battle Hugo Chávez) members are active. It has ten people in charge of mobilization, propaganda and ideological education. Its members are working for various political projects and maintain a relationship with people. Its slogan is “Lucha-Unidad-Batalla-Victoria” (Struggle-Unity-Struggle-Victory). During elections, they show their distinct political stance. The rest of the time, they work with community councils to address problems. The members in UBCh play an important role in informing people about the achievements of the revolution in the past 18 years.
Cumana, 500-Year Anniversary
Cumana was founded by the Spanish on November 27, 1515 and the 500th anniversary of its founding was celebrated on November 27, 2015. On this day, it was also 95 years of the Bolivarian Military Aviation and the 23rd year of the attempted military coup by Hugo Chavez in 1992.
Nicolas Maduro participated in the ceremony stating, “We are here today to commemorate 500 years, I have to say it, with the pain of 500 years, we come to commemorate 500 years of struggle of the people. Do not forget that this city rose above cemeteries of children and women, who were raped. The direct heirs of the imperialism of the North wanted to forget our history. Today we are commemorating 500 years of resistance, overcoming pain and injustice.” Also the president ordered that Columbus Avenue be renamed Maragüey Avernue after the leader of an indigenous tribe saying "We can not continue worshiping those who came to commit the biggest genocide in history - the American Indian genocide. 80 million men and women were raped, murdered, and disappeared.” Then he delivered his gratitude to indigenous people who fought against colonizers from Europe and have protected the Bolivarian revolution. To celebrate the 95th year of the Bolivarian Military Aviation, they displayed their air power. The president pointed out that military force is for protecting sovereignty, the revolution, and its people.
The most impressive part of the 500th anniversary was the historical play performed by 1,500 children. They reenacted the time from the indigenous period, to the invasion and colonization by Europeans, the independence movement by people and national heroes such as Simon Bolivar and Antonio Sucre, the introduction of neoliberalism and its destructive impacts on people, the changes after Hugo Chavez elected as a president, to today’s Venezuela. History was being corrected and taught to these children.
The Bolivarian Revolution Continues
It has been about 20 years since the Bolivarian revolution started with the Hugo Chavez government. During the past 20 years, people have realized that they have power and have wielded it to meet their needs and aspirations. Efforts to protect its sovereignty and democracy have also continued. At the same time, the attacks from the capitalists and imperialists have continued. However, the Venezuelan people’s revolution is not an empty slogan. It has transformed people’s daily lives so the people, who have undergone this revolutionary process, invest time and energy to protect it. This was clear from the words, expression, and actions of those we met.
When we asked one of the residents about what were the changes after the revolution in her life, she answered;
“I couldn’t go to school before the revolution, but I graduated from a college through an educational mission. The biggest change is that I can live in a decent house and eat nutritious food. Now I have bachelor’s degree and work for social welfare. Before the revolution, I was one of the people who received the help. Now, I can become a person who can give help. I like that I can develop myself fully. Without revolution, I could not become a helpful person. But now, I can be a help to others.”
Like her words, the revolution in Venezuela is concrete in people’s lives. Those we met told us that the revolution must go on and that it is not only the government but also the protagonist people that must play a role to protect it. The Venezuelan society is where the government hands over power to people and the people use it for everyone. The International Strategy Center will build solidarity to spread the Venezuelan revolution because its waves reach even our distant shores.
By Jeongeun Hwang (General Secretary, ISC)