Venezuela in the eye of the storm: An open letter for solidarity to grassroots movements in the United States and the world
By Jeanette Charles (Solidarity Correspondent, Chiapas Support Committee and Venezuelanalysis)
Dear comrades in the U.S. and the world,
In the 21st century, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is leading the struggle against US hegemony and for a multipolar world founded on economic and political cooperation, integration, mutual respect and democratic participation. Since 1999, Venezuela has ushered in material, political and spiritual transformations for millions within its borders through its social programs, participatory democracy and around the world through its solidarity projects and alliances 1. Yet, unfortunately, at this moment, many on the left and progressive forces are consumed by Venezuela’s “political contradictions” and “mistakes.” Consequently, we’ve begun to falter in our solidarity and commitment to Venezuela. As Venezuelans struggle to overcome great challenges, our role is not to join the chorus of attacks that seek to dismantle the revolution, but rather, it is to stand with Venezuelans’ right to self-determination in defining, shaping and practicing a 21st century socialism that offers our greatest hope against war and capitalism.
How can an oil producing nation diversify its economy and respond to fundamental material needs? How can Venezuela champion unity and integration in a region facing US intervention and occupation? How can the people work within and outside of the state and also amplify grassroots voices? These are the questions Venezuela’s Revolutionary forces are grappling with. Despite the corporate media smear campaign, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) serves as the most democratic answer to these questions.
The ANC came at the height of opposition violence as peace in Venezuela was fragile and vulnerable. Opposition incited violence (starting early April 2017) left more than 130 deaths in its wake. We all watched news that distorted Venezuelans’ reality and hid the opposition’s cruel practices. For instance, twenty-nine people were burnt alive – with nine dead – by majority white lynch mobs. Those targeted were persecuted for appearing “Chavista” which translated as the majority Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous poor. However, the news mischaracterized these opposition protests as pro-democracy mobilizations by students repressed by President Nicolás Maduro’s “regime”.
On May 1st, President Maduro invoked article 347 of the Constitution 2 that establishes the people’s right to self-determination and popular participation and announced the ANC’s establishment. Over three months, grassroots movements and local leaders launched campaigns to represent their neighborhoods and eight social sectors [i.e. Indigenous people, farmers, fisherfolks, elders, students, business people, workers and people with different abilities (disabled)].
On July 30, 8.2 million people (42% of the electorate) elected 545 people to represent the entire national territory and social sectors despite the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) estimates that nearly 2-3 million people were kept from the polls by opposition violence 3. With such a resounding vote in support of peace and justice, the opposition violence ceased immediately after the election.
The ANC is facilitating people’s direct participation by creating space for dialogue on a grassroots and state level. The body, now the highest power in Venezuela, will work over two years to discuss society’s most challenging subjects from the economy, corruption and violence to organizing assembles across the country to imagine their future. The ANC will draft a constitution which will be put to a direct vote by Venezuelans. Each week, ANC representatives spend several days in session discussing issues such as an anti-hate crime law to address guarimba violence and crimes motivated by prejudice towards a social group (e.g. race, gender, class). When not in Caracas, ANC representatives return to their geographical territories to hold assemblies with their communities or sectors. For those of us in the United States and its occupied territories, the ANC’s participatory democracy stands in stark contrast to our own democracy. Can you imagine electing leaders to draft a constitution from your neighborhood and community? Or elect a fellow farmer, student, or disabled person to write the laws on agriculture, education, disabilities? In Venezuela, people can open their pocket sized constitutions and quote the articles they helped shape. As one Venezuelan comrade posed to the group of Black women from the U.S., “Can you dream of representing a nation or a land, government or process that you are actually proud of?”
In the United States, we live under laws drafted by a white slave-owning elite class whose interests persist today. In U.S. backed countries such as Honduras and Haiti, people have been murdered for advocating for a constituent assembly. Nonetheless, this National Constituent Assembly process is under threat of U.S. intervention backed by the transnational corporate media’s smear campaign. Yet, instead of defending this process, many of us on the left are consumed by Venezuela’s contradictions and what we perceive as shortcomings.
In August, an international delegation – “Inside the Bolivarian Revolution” – was organized with Venezuelanalysis. Twelve multi-generational and multi-racial, majority Black and Brown people from Australia, Belize, and the United States participated. Just three weeks after the ANC elections, we were moving across the country hearing ㅡ from Afro-Venezuelans, farmers, workers, students, teachers, housing project residents, women, software developers and others ㅡ about how the Bolivarian Process has forever transformed Venezuela for the better. Hearing people’s testimonies, especially from those who lived through the repression, neoliberalism and U.S. domination during Venezuela’s Fourth Republic, it became evermore apparent how much the world can keep learning from Venezuela. Venezuelans are empowering their communities and improving everyone’s lives despite volatile global oil prices, U.S. sanctions and an economic war exacerbated by contraband networks and speculation of basic goods. Nonetheless, the Bolivarian Revolution has not wavered in achieving the “greatest sum of happiness”.
Throughout our journey, as we passed newly planted trees, recreational facilities and parks, free and universal clinics and hospitals, educational centers and subsidized and free housing, delegates remarked on “how simple it can be to make people’s lives better.” Yet, it’s not about “giving away free things” as is misrepresented in the U.S. and around the world. Rather, it is about investing in people and human development and redistributing wealth across all sectors of society. Venezuela operates on a reparations model, rectifying the historical wrongs waged against the people during the Fourth Republic and throughout colonialism. Throughout our trip, “for everyone everything, for no one nothing” and “life with dignity” echoed from Venezuelans.
In September, Venezuela invited over 300 international guests from 62 countries across five continents to participate in the international solidarity summit “We Are All Venezuela: A Dialogue for Peace, Sovereignty and Bolivarian Democracy”. There, we formulated strategies to face the onslaught of corporate media lies and U.S., Canadian and European imperialist aggression against Venezuela. It was a powerful and invigorating space that we shared with hundreds of Venezuelans.
We must replicate this space in our countries and communities to step up our support and solidarity with Venezuela. Presentations from ANC members, government officials like Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, and the Bolivarian Armed Forces reiterated a theme woven throughout the summit: “An attack against Venezuela is an attack against humanity.”
During the same time in New York, the United Nations held its general assembly. Standing at the pulpit of an institution created for international cooperation, peace, and sovereignty Donald Trump threatened Venezuela and the world reiterating his casual threats of U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. His remarks coincided with white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Everytime we frame conversations about Venezuela as “not socialist enough,” or as riddled by corruption beyond repair or insufficient in building 21st century socialism, we effectively dismiss and make invisible these histories, declarations and people. Venezuelans are the first to admit that they have much to grow. However, their resolve is unwavering. We must reaffirm our commitment to Venezuela, its revolutionary achievements and its flaws. We must do so before Venezuela becomes another casualty of U.S. backed coup like Haiti (1991 and 2004) and Honduras (2009). Let us rectify our mistakes and commit ourselves against U.S. led intervention in Venezuela. Let us expand our political conversations from criticism to constructive actions in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution. In doing so, we earn our right to the future.
- Among its various initiatives and projects are: Petrocaribe which provides oil to Caribbean countries at subsidized solidarity prices; the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) which seek to establish greater political and economic regional integration.
- Article 347 states, “The Venezuelan people are the depositary of the original constituent power. In the exercise of that power, it can convene a National Constituent Assembly with the purpose of transforming the state, creating a new legal system and drafting a new Constitution.” Article 348 allows the President to call on the ANC affirming that: “The initiative for calling a National Constituent Assembly may emanate from the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet of Ministers; from the National Assembly by a two-thirds vote of its members; from the Municipal Councils in open session, by a two-thirds vote of their members; and from 15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry.” For more information: https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/13260
- The night of the results, the CNE read letters from entire communities expressing their attempt but inability to vote due to the guarimbas (right wing opposition violent protests and barricades).