Our team in Caracas have uploaded a new video from their visit to a state hospital. They met with Luis Henriquez from the ministry of foreign relations, and Ruben Granado, deputy of foreign relations in the Latin American Child cardiology hospital 'Dr Gilbert Rodriguez Ochoa' in the East of Caracas.
Ruben explained to us that the hospital has been open since August 2006 and since then, has treated 7000 patients 'and counting', an average of 1300 patients each year. 79 of these patients have come from other countries including Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico and Gambia, the specialist hospital is designed to treat children up to 18 years old, for congenital heart problems who have been referred from 18 hospitals across the country.
Video by Ih-tisham Ul-Haq
[RCG 04.10.12] There is a popular saying in Venezuela that the capitalist class may control the media but we the people control the streets. The vast crowds of Venezuelans - estimated at well over a million - who thronged through the capital Caracas today in support of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution were the clearest, most concrete rebuttal possible to the lies and caricatures about Chavez gleefully propagated by the western press in the run-up to the presidential election on Sunday.
From early morning it seemed as though the whole city was awash with red, the Chavista colour; contingents of workers, students, women's organisations, organisations of popular power, young and old, with banners and flags and posters proclaiming their support. The level of consciousness was extraordinary - we spoke to street vendors, lawyers, pensioners, art students, taxi drivers.
Everyone was absolutely clear why they were there: to defend the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution, in health, in education, in housing, in providing affordable food for all and reject unequivocally the threat posed by the neoliberal Capriles Radonski. And everyone described the process as one being built from below, by the people and for the people.
By midday, the seven main avenues of Caracas were packed solid. Even when a torrential tropical storm broke, the cheers and songs and shouts of 'Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va!' Rainwater gushed ankle-deep down the streets yet everyone stood yelling support and waving flags as Chavez spoke about the need for another term to consolidate and take forward the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution, oblivious to the rubbish and dirty water swirling around our feet and to our sodden clothing.
If the western media is to be believed, why do they bother? For Guardian journalist Rory Carroll, whose trademark in writing about Venezuela, as it was previously about Cuba, is to present myth and hearsay in place of facts, Chavez has created a 'fiasco', a crumbling state where public money is siphoned off, who knows where?
The Venezuelans on the streets today know exactly where. They are attending the free universities - 22 built in the last year alone - paid for with this money; they are sending their children to the Bolivarian schools where everything down to the last pencil is provided free of charge; they are involved in building new communities and projects like the socialist city of Caribia (see previous blog).
Many are living in one of the nearly 244,000 new houses built under the Great Housing mission which will create three million new housing units by 2019. Their children are being guaranteed three meals a day, with thousands of families lifted out of extreme poverty in the past 14 years.
They are benefiting from the free hospitals and clinics, many run by Cuban medical staff as part of Barrio Adentro. (Incidentally, Carroll slurs these as 'dingy and dirty' which is what the rich disaffected Venezuelans say when trying to persuade you not to use the free hospitals. Has he ever actually been treated in one? My children have and I can report to Mr Carroll that they are in fact bright, spotless and scrupulously efficient. Perhaps he should try it some time).
In short, Carroll's comments are reminiscent of that scene in the Monty Python film Life of Brian - 'What has Chavez ever done for us?' 'Apart from the free hospitals, you mean?' 'And the free schools?' 'And the subsidised food markets?' 'And homes...' 'Well, yes, apart from all that'!
But the real point is a serious one. The lies and innuendo and half-truths of Rory Carroll and the Guardian, and others peddled in the British newspapers and television news serve a most pernicious purpose. Carroll suggests Venezuelan elections are not 'fair', despite them having been described by UNASUR (the countries of Latin America) and the Carter Foundation in the United States as probably the fairest and best-run on the continent.
Others make a point of describing the presidential race as 'tight' with Chavez neck-and-neck with neoliberal candidate Capriles, despite recent polls clearly showing this to be untrue. All this propaganda paves the way for the Opposition to cry foul when they fail to win the election on Sunday, and act to destabilise the government. The working class of Venezuela, who came out in their masses to support Chavez on Sunday are very clear: a vote for Chavez is a vote to continue and deepen the the Bolivarian Revolution, to make a reality of his call for a socialism of the 21st century.
A victory for Capriles would be a victory for Venezuela's capitalist class, a return to the days of privilege for a minority and poverty and hunger for the majority. It is clear whose side Rory Carroll is on.
[RCG 03.10.2012] 'We are working to develop national independence, as Chavez has set out in his Programa Patria, we are working to become self sufficient, developing social production that benefits the whole of the community whilst transforming ourselves, instilling the collective, community values required to build socialism'. Ana Julia Cedeño Maiz- treasurer and representative of the 'un sueño en revolución' communal council, deputy head of 'Samuel Robinson' primary school and coordinator of the education missions 'Robinson' (adult literacy and numeracy) and 'Ribas' (adult night school) in 'Socialist City Caribia' Catia, Vargas State.
As an activist who believes in an alternative to capitalism, in the possibility of constructing socialism as a system that primarily serves the needs of the people, today in City Caribia I got the chance to see what this alternative could look like. Not only as an abstract idea, but built with bricks, mortar and political consciousness.
City Caribia is a planned town, build high up on the hills between Caracas and the coast. The project commenced in 2007 but was fast tracked in 2010 in order to rehouse refugees made homeless following floods that devastated many precarious communities living in shanty towns surrounding the capital city Caracas. The houses are provided at subsidised prices, $64,000 compared to over $220,000 for a similar property sold on the private property market.
This can be paid over 20 years or more, with two years grace and families can receive subsidies of up to 100% if required. In order to guard against corruption, the houses can't be sold and the families who move in are those who have been identified as the most needy by housing working groups in their barrio. The 'Socialist city' is part of the 'Great Housing Mission' which seeks to build three million homes by 2019, of which over 244,000 have already been built.
Ana, who is a key activist in this process, explained to us that currently 1008 families live in the town but construction will be expanded to house a total of 20,000 families. The residents are organised into 3 communal councils, 'Casica Unimare', 'Un sueño en revolución' and 'Camino de los indios', and all three coordinate to address the needs of the town, holding regular assemblies and organising work groups to address different issues. Ana detailed the various projects and 'missions' they have developed in Caribia, including:
The communal councils are involved in developing the plans for expansion and overseeing the construction of the new houses, a university site, orchards, a metro cable that will link to the Caracas metro system and more. Full employment is guaranteed in the town thanks to the development of an industrial zone with textiles and plastics factories.
Ana explained that these factories are part of a national plan to develop secondary industry and produce goods for consumption in the whole of the country, reducing the amount of goods Venezuela has to import. This is an absolute necessity for achieving national independence and moving away from the 'rentier' oil dependent economy.
Agriculture is also essential given that Venezuela still has to import two thirds of its food, in this respect Caribia has begun producing fruit and vegetables through a communal allotment, these are then sold at regulated prices in the 'communal centre' at the heart of the development.
Kevin Ramirez, a worker in Café Venezuela, which sells coffee and hot chocolate made from ingredients that have all been produced by nationalised state companies explained 'we're not a cooperative, we work for our community as a whole, there are three of us who work here, we all earn the same salary and organise between ourselves our shifts and how to improve the café'.
Ana expanded on this stating 'I don't believe in the idea of cooperatives for us here in Caribia, cooperatives can become an autonomous block that work in order to reinvest in the cooperative over the community as a whole, we're looking for our own direction, we need to create and invent'.
Caribia has a communal bakery, hairdressers, canteen, hardware shop, butchers, greengrocers and transport collective, all of which are 'social production companies' belonging to the whole community.
The National Bolivarian Police (PNB) are also present in Caribia, but rather than them being an external force imposed on the community, Zulaika Figuera, coordinator of child protection emphasised 'these police officers live in our community, they are part of a national force but work here under the direction of the communal councils, they are our communal police and as part of their formation, they have studied socialist values and consciousness. We try to resolve our own problems in our community, through the work groups and communal meeting, in order to address problems of crime, economics, the environment, but anything we can't solve ourselves, we can go to the PNB'
Caribia is a work in process, members of the community with external support are working hard to build the new houses and centres from the agreed plans, but its also clear that socialist consciousness is also under construction, developing communal power, challenging capitalist relations of production through the social production groups, developing food sovereignty and national independence through the production of food and secondary industry.
As Ana highlighted, 'working to achieve “bien vivir- living well” of all our citizens is not just a question of material goods, but more importantly, developing socialist consciousness'
[RCG 02.10.12] 'Our revolution is eliminating the difference between the haves and the have-nots, which is the hallmark of capitalism'. Gabriela, a student activist from the Bolivarian University of Caracas, was speaking to us while perched precariously on the side of a pick-up truck as it made its way through the city, part of a caravana or convoy, galvanising support for Chavez ahead of Sunday's presidential election.
There were ten of us bundled into the back of the truck, waving posters and handing out leaflets. Around us roared a cavalcade of motorbikes, the riders clad in red Chavista t-shirts, the bikes adorned with stickers proclaiming 'Chavez, corazon de la patria'.
[RCG 01.10.2012] 'Our greatest weapon is the people, organised and conscious' With this Freddy Bernal, National executive of the PSUV and Deputy of the National assembly, closed his speech to the '7th October, a chance to ensure victory' forum in Parque Central, Caracas.
The forum had been organised by 'Artilleria' a magazine produced by the 28 March Movement created to advance critical thought and analyse the revolutionary process. The forum was full of Chavez supporters wearing the familiar red t-shirts, filling the space with chants of 'Uh Ah Chavez no se va' and 'No volveran' demonstrating their firm commitment to advancing the revolution 'past the point of no return' crushing the opposition in the presidential elections this Sunday.
Here's a short clip from our video team in Caracas, showing people preparing further street work for the Chavez campaign and a short visit to meet students at the Bolivarian University. Stay tuned for more clips and our full length documentary coming soon!
[RCG 01.10.12] On Saturday 21st September 2012, members of the Revolutionary Communist Group and their newspaper Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! held a rally in Newcastle in solidarity with Venezuela, raising awareness of the upcoming Presidential elections. Supporters of FRFI spoke about how crucial these elections will be, not only for Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution and Latin America, but also for the international struggle against imperialism, austerity, poverty and war.
29 September, Caracas
[RCG 29.09.12] Today we had the chance to visit the Alexis Vive collective near Agua Salud, Caracas and interview Ana Marin, militant of the the collective and key member of the 'El Panel 2021' comuna .The Alexis Vive collective is famous for its autonomy and independence, yet it is a crucial part of the Bolivarian process as a whole. We were given a first hand account of the dialectical relationship between the development of popular power in these collectives, and the development of the Bolivarian Revolution nationally in the progression towards socialism.
The Alexis Vive collective was formally created in 2004, but this was the realisation of community work that has been developed since 1993, following the response to the Caracazo in 1989 and the failed uprising that Hugo Chavez led in 1992. Based on political lessons they had drawn from studying the Paris Commune, the Zapatista movement in Mexico and the soviets of the Soviet Union, Ana explained that the aim was to 'develop the maximum participation of the community in producing what is needed to live' .
Named after Alexis Gonzalez, an activist from the community who was killed on 11 April 2002 whilst defending the sovereignty of Venezuela against the coup d'etat, Ana explained that 'Alexis lives in all of us, in the development and defence of our community spaces, our politics, our process, our practice, the creation of our comuna '
She explained that the collective currently organises around four pillars, social production, defence, the development of the comuna and REDES*, a political party that has been created nationally to mobilise for the presidential elections. The collective seek to involve everyone in their community, regardless of whether they identify themselves as Chavistas or not, through participation in developing the comunas, developing proposals and representing these in the National Assembly, producing goods to sustain the community or through the councils that are developing community education, sport, culture an social media amongst other sectors.
Ana emphasised 'we aim to involve everyone in something, respecting political and cultural diversity. This is because the revolution is a way, a mode of life, its not just about wearing a T-shirt or a jacket from a political party, not everyone fits in the same mould, there are various moulds.'
Underpinning each of the four pillars is the development of popular power and political consciousness. The comuna has its own sugar packing factory, textiles workshop, alternative radio and TV station, bakery, urban farm and a brick factory for producing the materials necessary for constructing houses.
Ana explained the process of empowerment inherent in this social production, 'We receive financial support from the government but we work to develop our independence from the state, the government gave us funding to buy tools, for example in the bakery, but on the basis that we use these tools to produce, we're not just parasites taking from the government, we don't just ask the state to give,give, give, we need to diversify the economy and produce the basic necessities to survive. With this development of popular power, we seek to redistribute the riches of the country, we don't depend on the mayors, the governors, the people can solve their own problems given the means, this strategy is what we are fighting for' she added 'It is our role to develop the political will, to be motors that drive forward the process of empowering the people'
The theme of defence is crucial, the collective polices itself and is an organized, armed community, a practice which is firmly located in political theory and understanding. Comparing the difference between a paid soldier under capitalism, and the political approach of the Alexis Vive collective, Ana pointed out 'In the constitution we are charged with the responsibility of defending the country, take the example of the paid soldier, they receive money from the state, and under capitalism, if they don't get paid, they are not going to defend their country, they are only paid to defend the capitalist state, they act as mercenaries. Our method of defence differs from this, in our community we don't believe in remuneration for the defence of our sovereignty, we believe in defending the revolution through political consciousness, where the people are organised and armed for the love of their community and country. Defending our way of life'
Ana also spoke of the importance of alternative media as a method of defending the gains of the revolution, and specifically their community, 'Our role is to raise consciousness, to be protagonists, exercise our power, for this we produce our community newspaper and radio which is called 'Arsenal', this is to disseminate the ideas and vision of the the Alexis Vive collective, to explain our successes and achievements. Since the last century when TV's became the norm in most peoples homes, this created public opinion, dominated by capitalist consciousness, we have to break the modes of capitalist media, to provide an alternative'
The development of popular power, through the comunas and the communal councils is a key process in the destruction of the old bourgeois state. The ruling class continues to wield a significant amount of power in Venezuela and there exists a state of dual power, where the comunas and social missions continue to grow and strengthen but the old structures of mayors, governors and private services are still maintained.
In discussing the necessity of destroying the bourgeois state, replacing it with a socialist state, Ana argued that 'we have to remember that following the Caracazo in 1989 and the failed 1992 uprising, the Bolivarian revolution has assumed a democratic path through elections, beginning with the election of Chavez in 1998. We've not seen a revolutionary war like in the Cuban or Russian revolution. Of course we study the teachings of Mao and Lenin in the necessity of insurrection and the destruction of the capitalist state. However, at this point, in order to destroy capitalism we have to compare the approaches, capitalism produces death, we produce life, in a capitalist bakery, they produce exploitation, we have a bakery where we develop consciousness, where we work as a collective, this is our insurrection, to show that there is another way of life, another system. Currently our form of insurrection depends on developing the consciousness of the Venezuelan people, creating popular power, if you ask me how do we overthrow the old state? My answer is through the comunas'
Whilst mobilising for the presidential elections is certainly a necessity at this moment in time, Ana was completely clear that in order to advance the socialist process, they have to look beyond the elections. 'whilst we are participating in REDES and mobilising for the election, our politics and aim is to develop the comunas'.
This is not solely an organisational question but based in Marxist politics, 'whilst its true that these ideas didn't originate from our continent, you must remember that colonialism brought capitalism to Latin America, the merchants developed capital and capitalism, from this developed trans and multi national companies that robbed our continent. We have experienced the globalisation of exploitation, the globalisation of hunger, of death, so now we believe in the globalisation of ideas, Marxism isn't a dogma, a doctrine, its not copy and paste, its a knowledge that allows you to interpret the world and to change it, transform it, its a science. Marx analysed the reality of capitalism, exploitation, and its contradictions, this is why these ideas remain so important to us today.'
The process of communal power in Venezuela demonstrates the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, it is not possible to develop the politics of the bolivarian revolution without community organisation, neither is it possible to achieve the aims of the collective by organising autonomously outside the struggle for socialism.
Whilst Ana was showing us round the comuna bakery, it struck me how the experience of Alexis Vive contained vital lessons for the Bolivarian process as a whole, simultaneously developing popular power, the forces of production and raising socialist consciousness. Calling for the development of 3000 comunas, that will represent 68% of the population, Chavez clearly recognises the value of the comunas in building the Bolivarian revolution, as a tool in dismantling the old bourgeois state.
*(Comparing the role of REDES, a new party based on communal councils and social missions set up to mobilise and politicize for the elections amongst those who don't identify with PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela) or other existing parties, Ana stressed 'REDES political aim currently is solely to mobilise for the election, and whilst we are participating in REDES, our politics, and our aim is to develop the comunas' she further explained 'REDES is not against the PSUV, the PSUV was formed by Chavez, our commandante, but it has a rigid structure, it doesn't always respond to our needs, so we have created REDES to reflect this, though we work together, its important to remember that PSUV is one only part of the platform of the revolution')