Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Category

maduro_floresVenezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has stated he will take “the most radical measures to protect our people’s economy” as a deadline for businesses to adhere to new price controls approaches.

“We will expropriate whatever needs to be expropriated,” the president said during a speech in Caracas amid commemorations of the 22nd anniversary of the 1992 failed coup d’état. The coup was led by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Although he served prison time for the insurrection, Chavez’s popularity was bolstered, and he went on to win the 1998 presidential elections by a landslide.

Maduro has pledged to continue the socialist revolution started under Chavez. “I’m determined to make an economic revolution. Nobody, nothing will stop me,” Maduro added.

New Price Controls

During his address on Tuesday, Maduro declared that businesses have until 10 February to fully comply with new price controls.

The Law for the Control of Fair Costs, Prices and Profits came into effect nationwide on 23 January, but businesses were given a grace period to adhere to the new controls. Under the law, profit margins are restricted to a maximum of 30%, though specific regulations vary between sectors, products and geographic areas. The law also imposes new penalties for economic crimes such as hoarding and price speculation – both of which are punishable by up to a decade imprisonment.

Three new offences are also added under the law: economic destabilisation, unauthorised resale of certain products and a new category of corruption.

Other offences listed under the law include usury, product tampering, price tampering, smuggling and speculation.

Maduro urged the private sector to voluntarily comply with the new law by self-regulating prices.

“Next Monday, if companies are found violating the fair prices law, I will implement the most radical measures [yet],” the president warned.

However, within hours of the speech Venezuela’s largest commercial lobby group declared it’s planning a legal challenge to the new law.

Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecamaras) president Jorge Roig stated that the law imposes undue restrictions on businesses.

“Not only it is unconstitutional, but also makes the situation of the country dramatically worse,” Roig stated, according to conservative newspaper El Universal.

“In a meeting of the board of directors, it was unanimously decided to take legal actions to request the annulment of the Law on Costs and Fair Prices,” he said.

Colombia and Venezuela cooperate to “crush” smugglers

Along with warning businesses, during his speech yesterday Maduro also declared that a “shock” plan would be launched to tackle smugglers.

“The Bolivarian National Armed Forces will continue to be deployed throughout the country, confronting the economic war that we have been attacked by since 2013,” Maduro stated.

The Venezuelan head of state said he is committed to ending “this problem that is affecting all of us Venezuelans”.

In the morning before his speech security forces uncovered a smuggler’s “warehouse with thousands of products, food and blankets” near the Colombian border, according to Maduro.

“The boss who was responsible has been arrested, and will pay with 14 years in prison,” Maduro stated.

30 tonnes of contraband flour and 110,000 litres of diesel fuel were also seized this week in the border state of Zulia, according to local police.

In a press release issued today, Zulia state deputy police chief Cesar Augusto Martínez stated the contraband was found in a municipality south of the state capital Maracaibo.

“It’s assumed that the fuel would have been transferred to a neighbouring country,” Martinez stated.

Tomorrow the government will meet with Colombian authorities to discuss strategies to counter smuggling on the shared border.

Maduro has stated he hopes to see the meeting produce tougher new measures to “crush the smugglers”.

Earlier this week the head of the National Assembly (AN) Diosdado Cabello stated that between 30 and 40 percent of Venezuela’s imported and domestically made food products are smuggled to Colombia.

“A bottle of water costs Bs10 in Venezuela, while when it goes to Colombia it costs Bs600,” Maduro said yesterday.

The president has labeled smugglers part of an “economic war” that he says is driving inflation and scarcity of consumer goods.

Products ranging from corn flour to dish washing soap have been scarce in some parts of the country in recent weeks.

Business groups including Fedecamaras have blamed currency controls for the shortages, claiming the government isn’t supplying out enough foreign cash for imports.

However, last week Maduro announced a government initiative to streamline imports.

The Estado Mayor de Abastecimiento (Supply Command) is an administrative task group mandated with overseeing improvements to Venezuela’s import process. Its members include the ministers of agriculture, food, industry, economics, finance and the head of the new consumer protection body, the National Superintendency for the Defence of Socioeconomic Rights (Sundde).

“The Supply Command will be installed to coordinate plans and actions needed,” Vice President  Jorge Arreaza tweeted on Monday.

SICAD cancelled this week

Maduro has also pledged to increase access to dollars for industries through the Complimentary System of Foreign Currency Acquirement (Sicad).

Although the government tightened access to official rate currency in January, Maduro stated that double the amount of cash would be offered this year in the government’s weekly Sicad dollar auctions.

Sicad has held regular currency auctions since last year, offering foreign currency at a rate of around Bs11.30 to the dollar, according to the latest figures. US$220 million was set to be up for offer at this week’s auction, until it was unexpectedly cancelled by the central bank yesterday.

“This determination owes to a series of anomalies and noncompliance with required procedures, which were detected after an exhaustive review of the orders,” the central bank stated in a brief press release.

No further details of the cause of the cancellation were provided.

Suppliers of paper and timber products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles and footwear had been invited to participate in this week’s auction.



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obama_lamericaby Mark Weisbrot

Recent events indicate that the Obama administration has stepped up its strategy of “regime change” against the left-of-center governments in Latin America, promoting conflict in ways not seen since the military coup that Washington supported in Venezuela in 2002. The most high-profile example is in Venezuela itself, during the past week. As this goes to press, Washington has grown increasingly isolated in its efforts to destabilize the newly elected government of Nicolas Maduro.

But Venezuela is not the only country to fall prey to Washington’s efforts to reverse the electoral results of the past 15 years in Latin America. It is now clear that last year’s ouster of President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was also aided and abetted by the United States government. In a brilliant investigative work for Agência Pública, journalist Natalia Viana shows that the Obama administration funded the principal actors involved in the “parliamentary coup” against Lugo. Washington then helped organize international support for coup.

The U.S. role in Paraguay is similar to its role in the military overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009, where Washington hijacked the Organization of American States (OAS) and used it to fight the efforts of South American governments who wanted to restore democracy. Zelaya later testified that Washington was also involved in the coup itself.

In Venezuela this past week, Washington could not hijack the OAS but only its Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, who supported the White House (and Venezuela opposition) demand for a “100 percent recount.” But Insulza had to back down, as did Spain, the United States’ only other significant ally in this nefarious enterprise – because they had no support.

The demand for a “recount” in Venezuela is absurd, since there has already been a recount of the paper ballots for a random sample of 54 percent of the voting machines. The machine totals were compared with a hand count of the paper ballots in front of witnesses from all sides. Statistically, there is no practical difference between this enormous audit that has already happened, and the 100 percent audit that the opposition is demanding. Jimmy Carter called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world,” and there is no doubt about the accuracy of the vote count,even among many in the Venezuelan opposition.

It is good to see Lula denouncing the U.S. for its interference and Dilma joining the rest of South America to defend Venezuela’s right to a free elections. But it is not just Venezuela and the weaker democracies that are threatened by the United States. As reported in the pages of this newspaper, in 2005, the U.S. government funded and organized efforts to change the laws in Brazil in order to weaken the Workers’ Party. This information was discovered in U.S. government documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Most likely Washington has done much more in Brazil that remains secret.

It is clear that Washington did not see the mildly reformist Fernando Lugo as threatening or even radical. It’s just that he was too friendly with the other left governments. The Obama administration, like that of President Bush, does not accept that the region has changed. Their goal is to get rid of all of the left-of-center governments, partly because they tend to be more independent from Washington. Brazil, too, must be vigilant in the face of this threat to the region.


Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

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Caracas, October 11th 2012 – Recently re-elected Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, stated that his next 6 year term would mark a period of “greater advance” towards the construction of socialism as well as “greater achievements and greater efficiency in this transition from capitalism”.

The Venezuelan president made the comments on Wednesday night during a ceremony with the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE), who named him the official winner of last week’s presidential election after Chavez beat right-wing candidate Capriles Radonski by 11.11% and took over 55% of the vote last Sunday.

In his speech, Chavez argued that the project of 21st century socialism in Venezuela was something that must be constructed “in the long term,” and promised that his government would try to respond to citizen’s concerns over the next 6 years.

“We are obliged as a government and as the state to speed up the administration of efficient responses and solutions to the thousands and thousands of problems that the Venezuelan people still suffer from. We are obliged to be more efficient, precisely so we can continue every day with greater force,” he said.

The thrice-elected president also confirmed that in the next few days his government will launch “Mission Mercosur” (Common Market of the South), aimed at developing areas of Venezuela with railways and deep-water ports in order to export products to other Mercosur member nations.

“There is an extremely important project to convert La Ceiba, Trujillo state and the Lake of Maracaibo into international ports. Further, we should start at once to begin the construction of the railway line between the Orinoco and the Caribbean,” said the president, adding that “this is the power of Latin America, this is the historic project”.

Chavez also went on to announce the deepening of government social programs through the implementation of what he termed “micro-missions,” which according to the president will be implemented at a local level by organised communities and focused on those most in need.

“We are drafting up ideas, revising notes and the specific and fundamental objectives of the micro-missions, as there will be many. They will be applied in towns, regions, factories, schools and the different places where they are needed”.

The Venezuelan president argued that in order for these projects to be effective, they must be rooted in grassroots organisation. “We must keep giving power to the people, that is the solution, it’s not the power of the bureaucracy and elites that is going to solve the problems of the people,” he said.

The announcements reflect a new approach by the Chavez government aimed at guaranteeing greater effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of social programs and other policies. The Venezuelan president also recently announced the creation of a new government ministry of social missions to the same end.

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On October 8, 2012, the Day of the Heroic Guerilla, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine remembers Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara, revolutionary leader, fierce fighter, and principled struggler whose true commitment to internationalism and liberation lives on in the struggles of peoples around the world for freedom, justice and socialism.

Following the revolutionary victory in Cuba in 1959, Che’s commitment to international revolution did not diminish, and he joined Bolivian revolutionaries in 1966. On October 8, 1967, Che and his comrades were captured and surrounded by the US-backed Bolivian military, and executed.

Nine days later, Fidel Castro spoke, memorializing Che and commemorating October 8 as the Day of the Heroic Guerilla, saying “Che died defending no other interest, no other cause than the cause of the exploited and oppressed of this continent. Che died defending no other cause than the cause of the poor and humble of this earth … Before history, people who act as he did, people who do and give everything for the cause of the poor, grow in stature with each passing day and find a deeper place in the heart of the people with each passing day.”

In Palestine, Che’s spirit, his commitment to liberation, rises in the streets of our occupied homeland. We mourn and honor our Guevara Gaza, Mohammad al-Aswad, and the thousands of Palestinian Guevaras, the eternal martyrs, who have struggled, fought, sacrificed and died for the liberation of Palestine, and the thousands of Palestinian Guevaras still to come, to hold high the banner of the resistance until the day of victory is ours.

On the 45th anniversary of Che’s death, we remember him as one of the martyrs of Palestine, a great martyr for the freedom of the oppressed of the world. And we continue to live his words: “Let us sum up our hopes for victory: total destruction of imperialism by eliminating its firmest bulwark: the oppression exercised by the United States of America…And if we were all capable of uniting to make our blows stronger and infallible and so increase the effectiveness of all kinds of support given to the struggling people – how great and close would that future be!… Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this, our battle cry, may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons and other men be ready to intone the funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machine-guns and new battle cries of war and victory.”

Che Guevara Presente! Viva viva Palestina!

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Merida, 7th October 2012  – Hugo Chavez has won the Venezuelan elections with over 54.44% of the vote against 45% of the vote for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

The results were announced by the president of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, a few minutes ago.

Over 80% of the 19,119,809 registered voters in Venezuela participated in the election.

Fireworks are already going off in the centre of the Andean city of Merida, and a massive crowd of Chavez supporters have begun celebrating in front of the presidential palace, Miraflores, in Caracas.

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A young activist explains why she supports Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution at a mass pro-Chavez rally: “I support the revolution because I’ve seen the people’s project and participation in social change materialized”

I’ve witnessed the self-assured superiority of Paris, the imperial arrogance of Washington, the capitalist decadence of New York’s Manhattan, parliamentary elections in Germany, and my fair share of elections in Britain. In none of them have I encountered a democratic political culture as profound as Venezuela’s.

In Venezuela it’s hard to avoid politics at the best of times, but during election campaigns signs of political struggle and debate become, quite literally, wall to wall. In the small Andean city of Merida, with a population of under 300,000, a walk across the city centre gives an idea of the intensity of the campaign being waged ahead of the 7 October presidential election. With socialist President Hugo Chavez seeking a third term in office against right-wing challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski for the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition, supporters from both sides are out in force.

One strategy in Merida is campaign caravans, where supporters get into trucks, cars and jeeps and drive around the city waving flags, tooting horns and shouting slogans. Another is to gather with a group of activists at a key transit point with loudspeakers blasting music in favour that campaign’s candidate, slowing cars to hand leaflets to drivers or write messages on their back windscreens. A few days ago I saw an interesting competition between a group of young First Justice (PJ) supporters, the party of Capriles Radonski, and activists from the youth wing of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), which supports Chavez. Both were trying to leaflet cars and sing their campaign songs the loudest, and without being too partisan about it, the PCV activists were clearly putting more enthusiasm into their campaigning, with the PJ supporters falling into silence and songs of a distinctly revolutionary nature drifting across the street. “It looks like the communists are winning,” said my partner to me smiling.

Then there are the campaign stalls; tables under small marquees where activists gather with leaflets and music to campaign to passers-by, encouraging a kind of street debating culture throughout the election. Without a doubt there are more “punto rojo” (red point) campaign stalls of Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), than those of the opposition. In fact reports I’ve received from Caracas indicate that the opposition presence in the streets is even lower there than in Merida.  The punto rojos are ubiquitously located in almost every major square and highway in the city, and I’m already building up my own collection of leaflets just from walking past these stalls in the passing of the day. Add to all this the major campaign rallies, door to door visits by activists, saturated media coverage, massive billboards, and posters covering almost every available surface, which activists stick up every night when the streets are quiet. No, you can’t ignore the presidential election here. Nor are most Venezuelans trying to, in the awareness that, unlike in many other countries, their vote actually matters for the country’s future political direction.

A look at the two candidate’s campaign material highlights this choice. Chavez’s campaign leaflet is balanced between what he has achieved so far as president since his first election in 1998, his movement’s overall vision for Venezuela, and concrete proposals for the coming period. Quoted achievements include improving free healthcare and education systems, eliminating illiteracy, establishing a profit-free food distribution network, integration into a sovereign Latin America and laying the basis for a “participatory and protagonistic” democracy in Venezuela. The campaign’s five goals (each of which are broken down into concrete proposals) are consolidating national sovereignty, the continued construction of “Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century” in Venezuela, converting Venezuelan into a Latin American power, promoting a multipolar world order capable of guaranteeing world peace, and “preserving life on the planet and saving the human species”, the latter of which has been extensively mocked by Capriles and his campaign, who argues that Venezuela should only worry about itself.

Meanwhile Capriles’ campaign itself seems to have two manifestos. In the official one, Capriles has promoted himself as Chavez-light, promising to maintain popular social programs, while advocating the need for more “incentives for entrepreneurs” and criticising “major obstacles to the involvement of private companies” in the economy. Then there’s the real plan, leaked by dissident members of the opposition, which shows the neoliberal nature of the Venezuela opposition, proposing the deregulation of banks, opening up the economy to private investment and the reduction of state funding for public services and communal council projects. You can read a summary of both candidate’s government plans on Venezualanysis.com here. Nevertheless, from a democratic perspective, despite the opposition’s unwillingness to present its actual policies to the electorate during the campaign, in Venezuela citizens are presented with a real choice in this (and every) election, with the power to decide in which direction they want the country to go.

An election in a decaying liberal democracy

In the last major election I witnessed, the British general election in May 2010, the atmosphere was slightly different. In that election I was a parliamentary candidate, standing for a socialist alternative to cuts in public spending and other austerity measures, billed as a necessary response to the capitalist recession. Myself another other activists ran a campaign in the city of Aberdeen, Scotland, which incidentally is of a similar size to Merida in Venezuela. However the similarities end there.

That election was characterized by a sense of apathy, disenchantment, and powerlessness. Like many countries across Europe and North America, the election consisted in presenting the population with two variants of the same pre-designed policy to vote for: in this case further privatisation of public services, frozen wages, job losses, and reduced social benefits. No substantive issues were put on the table for debate. International financial institutions, banks, corporate media, and dominant political currents had already decided that ordinary people would pay for the economic crisis, which was caused by capitalism in general, and financial capital in particular. Whether people voted for the incumbent Labour party, or for the other dominant political forces, the Liberal Democrat or Conservative parties, they would be rubber-stamping what was basically the same policy. The notion of the people having a real say in decision-making, that is, of real democracy, took a back seat.

That election reflected an on-going decay in the liberal democratic system, and could be readily observed in the atmosphere of the election campaign. For example, during the entire campaign in Aberdeen, only once can I remember seeing Labour party activists, activists of the sitting government at the time which was trying to stay in power, physically out on the streets leafleting in the city centre. Aspects of grassroots campaigning such as door knocking and leafleting surely occurred during the election, but not much.  This was true of all major parties, with a lack of popular enthusiasm and mobilisation among the population evident. In publicity terms, the formal marks of an election were still there: posters were put up, billboards and mass leaflet deliveries paid for, and candidates moved around the country and had their statements reported in the press. It was an election moved by opinion polls, public relations campaigns, and sound-bite discourse.

Yet from my impression, the spirit of real democracy, of people being in control of the politics of their country and feeling that their voice and their vote mattered, was not present. Absent were groups of activists closing down main roads to mass-leaflet transit. Absent were campaign stalls in almost every major square and street, with activists passionately explaining why their candidate deserved support. Absent were massive rallies of tens and hundreds of thousands of people, who in with joy and anger shouted, demanded, and praised their candidates, because it really mattered who won. Absent was the notion that a major political force stood up for ordinary people’s interests versus those of the ruling elite, that there was something worth getting up off your sofa and fighting for. This was reflected in the turnout on voting day, which for an election that had the possibility of a change of government (which indeed happened) was low, at 65% of the electorate. A far cry from the 84% turnout for the landslide Labour victory of 1950, and well short of the 75% turnout in the 2006 Venezuelan presidential election, which never looked close, with Chavez winning by a country mile. Turnouts in other kinds of British elections are usually lower still.

The reality is that in Europe, North America and Australasia, to one extent or another, participation and substantive decision-making power in politics have been stolen from the people, to the degree which it was ever existed in the first place. In previous generations, voters at least had a real choice to make, between social-welfare capitalism and state intervention in the economy, or free-market neoliberal capitalism. Now, politics can be characterised, as campaigning journalist John Pilger once quoted, as “indistinguishable parties competing for the management of a single ideology state”. Communities, trade unions and social movement organisations are instead forced to take to the streets to defend previous social gains and rights, with little formal political representation willing to support them. Add to this political monoculture a nauseating pro-establishment nationalism, attacks on civil rights in the name of a “war on terror,” sporadic corruption scandals and ever-growing media concentration, and you can see the indicators for the on-going decay of democracy and participatory political culture in these countries.

Venezuela’s participatory democratic birth

Why, in turn, are there such high levels of enthusiasm and participation in Venezuelan politics? In the 1958 – 1998 period, Venezuela also had a two-party “democracy” in which those two parties shared power, while left wing activists were actively persecuted. This “Punto Fijo” system lost legitimacy in 1989 when then president Carlos Andrez Perez (CAP) implemented an IMF neoliberal austerity package, which among other measures, lifted subsidies on fuel. The response was protesting and rioting, which the CAP government put down by military force, with estimates of those killed running up to three thousand civilians. Fed up with the elitism, exclusion, and corruption of the Punto Fijo system, the people turned to Hugo Chavez and his Fifth Republic Movement, who broke open the delegitimised two-party system with his election as Venezuelan president in December 1998, beginning the Bolivarian revolution.

Chavez followed through on his campaign promise to re-found the country, with an elected constituent assembly writing the country’s new National Constitution in 1999, arguably one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Passed by a popular referendum, it gave Venezuelans a broad range of new political, civil and social rights, and provided a framework for further democratic reform. Now Venezuelans can recall elected representatives from their posts, and directly submit laws for discussion in the National Assembly, among other rights. Meanwhile major elections or referenda have been held almost every year since Chavez’s election, with the Venezuelan people collectively making key political decisions, such as keeping Chavez in power in the 2004 recall referendum, the narrow defeat of the 2007 constitutional referendum, and the passing of the 2009 constitutional referendum, which allows elected officials to run for more than two consecutive terms in office, including Chavez.

A dynamic has developed where law-making has had to keep pace with an explosion in grassroots organisation. Many Venezuelans are now actively included and involved in political life, participating in social movements, political parties, communal councils, communes, community media outlets, trade unions and worker councils, and other forums. Meanwhile a large part of the poor and lower-middle classes, which form around 80% of the population, have felt represented by the Chavez government, and have passionately defended it. Along with promoting the political inclusion and empowerment of the poor, this is due to government policies such as taking control over Venezuela’s oil revenues and funnelling the money into social spending such as free healthcare, education, subsidised food networks, and housing construction. Economic privatisation has been rolled back, with the nationalisation of telecommunications, electricity, cement, some banking sectors, and more possible if Chavez wins on 7 October. These moves have been taken in the backdrop of an intransigent US-backed opposition which has both physically and electorally tried to remove Chavez, so far without luck.

Nothing’s perfect of course, and all these gains don’t mean there aren’t setbacks within Venezuela’s new democratic upsurge. When Chavez fell ill with cancer last year, renewed attention was drawn to the problem that the Bolivarian movement depends so much on one leader. Meanwhile, corruption and bureaucracy are phenomena which slow further radical democratisation and erode support for the Bolivarian revolution as a whole. I noticed the effects of this in the eastern Guayana region in Venezuela, where some ostensibly pro-Chavez figures were actively resisting the advance of the worker control project in the region, where workers are trying to take the control of factories into their own hands. Also, an opportunistic political culture still exists, where some politicians take advantage of their position for self-promotion. This can be seen in Merida, where both the pro-Chavez state governor and the pro-opposition city mayor have employees’ uniforms and official material with their faces and names, promoting themselves above the institution they are elected to run. That means if someone wants to work in municipal rubbish collection or tending public squares, they must wear a uniform that promotes a certain politician. This is a practice which many people in Chavez’s movement are against, and debate and action on all these issues form part of the dynamic within the struggle to deepen Venezuela’s new participatory democracy.

Differing views of Venezuela’s democracy, from corporate media jargon to reality

However, great advances have been made in political empowerment and participation in Venezuela since 1998, and the vitality of Venezuela’s democracy stands in sharp contrast to the West. I got a reminder of this just last week, when Chavez came to Merida for an election rally. The response from the people was incredible, with campesinos (rural labourers), workers, students, and many others steaming into the city from the surrounding region to support the re-election of their president. The joy and enthusiasm of the tens of thousands of demonstrators was palpable, with handmade banners, artistic expression, air horns, music, hugs, shoulders pats, and declarations of support for Chavez being the order of the day. Big Venezuelan rallies like this are a mixture of music gigs, street parties, and political demonstrations. It’s also fair to say of opposition supporters, that while their stance may be based on reactionary values, or on the confused notion that “justice” or “progress” is something to be delivered by a neoliberal candidate from the Venezuelan elite, they too are passionate, most of all in their opposition to Chavez. In Venezuelan politics, people feel that they actually have a cause worth supporting, and millions are motivated to get on their feet to do so.

Talking to people at the Merida rally, I was impressed by the depth of political consciousness and variety of opinions among the crowd as to why they supported Chavez’s re-election. For some, Latin American integration was the reason, for others, free healthcare. For many, their main reason for supporting Chavez, as one middle-aged couple put it to me, was that “he’s the president who has most given power to the people” while another man told me, “he’s the president who has awoken the people of Venezuela and fellow peoples”. Another young women told me her reason was quite simply “I love him”.

For a journalist with a corporate news service such as Reuters, sitting on a fat salary in a plush Caracas apartment on tap to the opposition (one imagines), this is evidence of the “romantic and affectionate view of Chavez” who is cynically playing “the populist card” to win another term in office. Or to an Associated Press journalist who’s never tasted poverty in their life, social programs, often referred to as “oil-fuelled spending largesse” in anti-Chavez corporate press jargon, can be dismissed as Chavez “spending heavily on social programs…this year seeking to shore up support,” i.e. cynically buying votes. Never mind the historical record, which shows a long-term commitment of behalf of the Chavez government to social spending, with poverty more than halved among numerous other social achievements. This commitment includes maintaining social spending during the 2009-10 recession in Venezuela, when no presidential election was in sight, in order to offset the negative effects of the global economic crisis on the Venezuelan people, a move apparently beyond the means of many “first world” nations.

Indeed, the young women who told me that “love” was the reason she voted for Chavez wasn’t being tricked by some populist image or last minute spending burst. She came from a poor family which used to live in a shanty house near where the Merida rally took place. Now she is about to graduate as a doctor in the government’s integral community medicine program, and would have been excluded from the Venezuela’s traditionally elite medical system. Her shanty house had also been transformed into a dignified home through the community driven “homes for shanties” program, part of the government’s mass housing construction mission. It’s transformations like these that have earned Chavez such strong support, as much as it pains the international media to say so. Indeed, according to corporate media sources, gaining the support of the popular majority through directing government policy toward their needs seems to be a bad thing for “democracy”, with former Council of Foreign Relations analysis Joe Hirst recently arguing that Venezuela needs to take lessons on democracy from the US. What rubbish. At least former US President Jimmy Carter has added a dose of reality to what has been atrociously misleading reporting by most mainstream media outlets on Venezuela’s election, stating that in his opinion Venezuela’s electoral system is the best in the world.

A democratic rebirth in the West?

While the world’s corporate media have trapped themselves in an Orwellian illusion whereby the US and Britain are models of democracy and Venezuela is a troubled country run by a “regime”, in the real world the reality is otherwise. Democracy in the US and Europe is in trouble, with the majority of the population being shut out of any real choice over public decision-making, and a political monoculture running whole countries in the interests of a small elite. For a long time the reaction to this has been apathy or de-politicisation, however in many countries there has been significant resistance to capitalist austerity, with new movements being born and old ones rejuvenated. It remains to be seen whether disenchantment with this decay will be converted into a movement capable of social and political transformation. Perhaps we will see a parallel with Venezuela’s example, where an outside movement manages to break elites’ monopoly on power and generate a revolutionary democratic rebirth. In this task, there’s a lot to be learned from both the achievements and contradictions of the Venezuelan experience, which in many ways is one of the most profound democracies in the world today.

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Mérida, September 23rd 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) –  In one of the largest concentrations in Merida state’s history, tens of thousands of locals rallied in support of presidential candidate Hugo Chavez on Friday. Yesterday, there was a similarly large turnout in Trujillo state, and thousands also marched in support of the social missions in Caracas.

“This socialist revolution won’t be stopped by anyone because it has become the people,” Chavez said in Merida.

He asked Meridenans if an opposition government would maintain the missions and other gains, to loud cries of “No!” from the crowd. He also talked to one activist from the suburb of Tabay, Patricia Acosta, about the benefits of the revolution there and how she is working with the  United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to guarantee a victory for the Bolivarian revolution in the 7 October elections.

“The opposition try to disguise themselves, basically as the revolution, and now they adore the missions, even though they have attacked them so much… the missions are only possible under a socialist government,” Chavez said.

People had been gathering in the street from around 10am that morning, and when Chavez appeared on stage just after 5pm the crowd went ecstatic, with some people close to tears, and many climbed onto shop roofs, billboards, and construction stands in order to get a better view.

They had come from all over Merida state, and in the lead up to Chavez’s speech, enjoyed music and dancing on four other stages, as well as giant puppetry, spray paint art, and affordable arepas provided by a PDVAL van.

“It’s important to maintain this excitement and love, but at the same time accompany it… with perfect strategy, perfect tactics, a perfect battle, so that we achieve the perfect victory on 7 October,” Chavez told the crowd.

Yanecsy Paredes, a student of integral community medicine, told Venezuelanalysis’ Ewan Robertson, “Today I feel really happy, happy to be sharing [time] with the people of Merida, enjoying the wait to see my president, and excited about the re-election [of Chavez]”.

She said the people support Chavez so strongly, “because of love, the main thing that moves us here is love, the love that he has given us. Equally, we reciprocate with him. We are with him because over recent years we have seen how in reality the people have arisen, poverty is being reduced, health needs are attended to, primary health care is arriving in the towns and villages, to those most in need.”

At the rally, Chavez also announced that the world’s highest cable car, which goes up the Andes of Merida, will be reopened after three years of repairs and improvements, next year. Merida will also host Venezuela’s annual International Tourism Fair (Fitven) next year.

Also in Merida yesterday, the government inaugurated the second stage of the city’s free of charge tramway (or electric bus). The second stage extends the distance covered by the tram by 2.7 km, for a total of 13.1 km.

The minister for land transport, Juan Garcia, said daily passengers are expected to increase to 40,000.

Large rallies in Trujillo and Caracas

In a similarly large concentration on Saturday in Trujillo state, to the north of Merida, Chavez announced that its La Ceiba port, located on the large Maracaibo Lake, will become an international port of the regional bloc, the Common Market of the South (Mercosur). He said the port will link up to a railway that will go through Tachira and Merida states. Venezuela formally joined Mercosur on 31 July this year.

Chavez also announced that the government is building one of the largest abattoirs in Venezuela in Trujillo, “It’ll have a capacity of up to 600 animals per day; it’ll absorb Trujillo’s production, as well as part of Merida’s… thanks to Argentine support”.

In Trujillo, like in Merida, Chavez dedicated a large part of his speech to the proportionately large youth populations of these states, saying, “I look at you all in these streets with the eyes of a father… and I feel as though you were my children, and the children of this struggle, the children of this homeland. I swear to you that I will be in this battle until the last day of my life, so that you all can have a homeland, and can continue building it”.

Also on Saturday in Caracas, tens of thousands of people marched in support of Venezuela’s social missions and to state that “the missions are the peoples, and are with Chavez”.

For a photo gallery of the Merida rally, click here.

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