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Is Venezuela on the Verge of a Another Coup?

Venezuelan Analysis

August 31, 2016

By Jeanette Charles

Thousands of Venezuelans mobilized in Caracas this weekend to voice their support for the Bolivarian Process (teleSUR).
Thousands of Venezuelans mobilized in Caracas this weekend to voice their support for the Bolivarian Process (teleSUR).


 

Current events in Venezuela and the political opposition’s call for global protests against President Maduro conjure memories of the 2002 coup d’état – a moment marked by violence all too familiar for most Venezuelans. The opposition’s public call for national and international protests slated for September 1st accompanied by transportation strikes in some of the nation’s opposition strongholds along with rising inaccessibility to most basic staples also indicate strong possibilities for rampant guarimba violence reminiscent of the 2014 opposition demonstrations. So it would seem, a potential coup d’état is in progress.

Yet, what are the real possibilities? What are grassroots movements and others aligned with the Bolivarian process saying about the opposition’s upcoming demonstrations? What are the strategies in place? And, more importantly, how are the grassroots preparing to respond come September 1st?

2016 Opposition Protests and their Political Backdrop

This week’s protests center on the Venezuelan opposition’s insistent demand for a recall referendum to occur this year. This is not the first time Venezuela has faced a potential presidential impeachment.  As teleSUR English’s Iain Bruce reports, “On August 15, 2004, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, faced his opponents in the first and only recall referendum against a sitting president in modern world history. The opposition parties were confident they would win. They assumed they would naturally recover the positions of power they had lost.” However, Venezuelan history proved otherwise and Chávez remained in office, securing a majority.

Since the people’s election of Chávez in 1998, the Bolivarian Revolution has marked a distinct transition away from an oligarchy that has historically siphoned oil and resources from the people devastating Venezuela’s majority poor nation. Over the last 17 years, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Process has made major strides in inclusionary rights, economic access and political consciousness raising domestically and on an international scale.

However, the opposition, actively supported by the United States, continues to strategize against the Bolivarian process which has radically transformed people’s material conditions and improved the majority poor’s livelihood.

On repeated occasions, the opposition has illegitimately pushed for the recall referendum to happen this year. Yet, National Electoral Council (CNE) President Tibisay Lucena publicly announced earlier this month that according to constitutionally established timelines, the recall referendum will not happen before January 2017. This is due to the opposition consciously beginning the process too late for all the steps to be completed this year.

Nonetheless, the opposition has found support of right-wing factions throughout the region such was the case earlier this month when 15 out of 35 OAS members released a joint statement calling for the Venezuelan government to carry out what would be an unconstitutional referendum process before January 2017.

We’ve witnessed this same tactic over and over again. The battle to deligitimize Venezuela, allege that the country is breaching its constitution and highlight its challenges both economic and political are seemingly never-ending in the political arena and in corporate media. To a certain extent, the opposition has also successfully confused millions internationally about the diverse realities facing most Venezuelans.

The economic lead-up to this 2016 call for protests parallels the April 2002 coup. Just last week opposition legislator Freddy Guevara admitted that the opposition had used an “economic boycott” to force the government out. Moreover, he vowed that opposition would reach “Miraflores Palace” on September 1st, just as they did in 2002 when the opposition suddenly diverged from its pre-determined route and decided to march to Miraflores resulting in a direct confrontation between the right-wing opposition and Venezuelan popular forces.

Among the opposition’s other tactics have included a campaign to prevent the country from assuming Mercosur’s pro tempore presidency. Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodríguez along with grassroots movements aligned with the Mercosur process have denounced the continued refusal to transfer power over to Venezuela without grounds.

While international reports may seemingly paint a picture of disaster across the Latin American left and especially of more progressive governments, the continued efforts to destabilize Venezuela indicate that US imperialism is re-positioning itself in the region and returning to relationships with historic right-wing allies.

With this said, the direct hand of the US government in these destabilization attempts against Venezuela remains evermore present. One can look to the sanctions that were renewed in April this year as a prime example.

Furthermore, Venezuelan Foreign Ministry’s North American agency released a statement this Monday that renounced the US State Department spokesperson John Kirby’s call to release former mayor of San Cri?tobal, Táchira state, Daniel Ceballos from prisoner.

Ceballos was transferred to prison after spending time under house arrest for his role in the 2014 guarimbas. The Ministry of Justice asserted that this week’s transfer was made after recent information surfaced of Ceballos’ potential escape plans to “coordinate acts of violence” this week.

“The brand and authorship of the coup being planned for September 1, 2016, in Venezuela, in collusion with the anti-democratic opposition and international right, has become clear…,” read the statement. It continued, “[President Barack Obama’s government] is seeking to destabilize Venezuela and the region in its final days to legitimize its imperial plans against peace and the development of the people.”

Likewise, US prize winning opposition spokesperson Yon Goicoecha was also arrested this week for the alleged possession of explosives equipment.

Voices from the Bolivarian Process

While there is more than enough evidence to suggest a coup may indeed already be in the works for Venezuela in the near future, a wide range of opinions and actions characterize Venezuelan public opinion regarding the opposition’s latest call for protests.

For example, the government has taken steps to prevent violence such as prohibiting drones from entering into Venezuelan airspace for the next 120 days unless sanctioned by the Defense Ministry. Many private businesses are also closing their doors amidst security concerns.

Meanwhile, grassroots spaces such as community councils and local media outlets have called for marches in support of the Bolivarian Process starting Tuesday August 30th as well as reminding people to have non-confrontational behavior on September 1st to avoid any possible bloodshed.  For example, the Bicentennial Women’s Front convened “a great mobilization in defense of the revolution…we will demonstrate that we are the guardians of Chavez and the Revolution.”

In an exclusive with Venezuelanalysis, María Helena Ramírez, student organizer and resident of San Crístobal, Táchira state, stressed that during the September 1st demonstrations despite the opposition’s alleged call for “peace”, “some right wing spokespeople have remarked that ‘there will be deaths’ and ‘blood will run’ in public interviews.”

Ramírez also commented on the opposition’s strategic use of transportation highlighting that, “there will be buses leaving many regions of the country toward Caracas. This is a very interesting strategy given that Chavista social movements have mobilized across the country to march in the capital for years and the opposition historically has not.” The opposition most certainly counts on selling the impression internationally that their political position has a consolidated and unified base.

Likewise, in Táchira, Ramírez confirmed reports that there has been a transportation strike announced for nine days meant to interrupt and complicate citizens’ daily lives contributing to heightened levels of frustration and concern. Similarly, this last weekend when current opposition National Assembly leader Ramos Allup visited Táchira, people found tire road blocks in the same places that were strongholds for the 2014 guarimbas.

Ramírez suspects that, “what we are seeing is the beginning of an attack against Venezuela meant to push the people to the limit and carry out a coup.” However, Ramírez emphasized that the grassroots along with the Bolivarian government have committed to “protecting the people of Venezuela, especially in Caracas, and the Bolviarian Revolution.”

José Vicente Rangel, long time comrade of former President Hugo Chávez who also served as Minister during his administration, publicly expressed similar concerns over the September 1st marches in Venezuelan media – distinctively drawing parallels to the prelude of the 2002 coup. “In the time of a tense climate, this march could have very grave consequences. Any detail can be explosive and although the same promoters [of this march] insist that it will be civil in character, [our] experience proves otherwise,” Rangel suggests.

“As the march can occur in all normalcy, it can also repeat the brutal experience of April 11, 2002 march and other episodes of violence like the guarimbas, we must put forth with urgency: dialogue,” he continued, of which he stated 80 percent of Venezuela’s population favors.

“There are factions intent on creating a chaotic situation and provoking the rupture of constitutional and democratic order, as well as foreign interventionist adventures that would severely affect our national sovereignty. The opposition that exists in this country seems bent on disaster and total institutional rupture to facilitate [their] access to power; apparently all other options, except violence, are blocked,” Rangel stressed.

It is not without saying that President Maduro also conveyed similar concerns at a rally this weekend and denounced what he called a “an imperialist attack on all.” Maduro cited ongoing US interference and right-wing assaults against the governments of Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador among other examples.

However, there are dissenting opinions. These reflections rest on the unforgotten ingenuity of the Venezuelan people to defy all odds and prevail against an avalanche of uncertainty.

In his recent publication “The Takeover of the Cities and Power (and the Desire to Take-Over)”, Venezuelan public intellectual  and historian José Roberto Duque explains why he believes September 1st will be another unsuccessful opposition attempt to destabilize the nation.

Principally, Duque suggests that very few historical cases exist that show “rebellions” have led to drastic societal shifts and that these oppositions marches will not be among these examples.

“The only mobilizations of this historical time that have toppled governments or at the very least have shaken [them] include: 1) sudden and spontaneous [rebellions] (Venezuela, 1989); 2) [rebellions] directed, defined and inspired by genuine leaders (Venezuela, 1998); or 3) [rebellions] headed or financed by the international war machine (Libya, 2011),” he attests.

Additionally, Duque outlines that due to the opposition’s absent effort to build a consolidated base, combined with the Venezuelan Chavista population’s will to rectify the errors of the revolutionary process, while there may be a series of violent episodes across the country – nothing will mark a definitive “exit” to Maduro’s administration.

“Maybe blood will be spilt in some places, maybe they try and prolong for a few days the media sensation of a rebellion (the cameras and audiovisual production are ready, count on that),” Duque writes. However, he continues, “And perhaps from our side, from the side building this country, we will probably forget the arguments and demobilizing divides, and maybe we will remember in unison that the Revolution charges us with an important task, parallel or previous to all the others: avoid at all costs that the transnational corporation’s racist plague take ahold of the institutional management of the State.”

He concludes, “If this is the result, we will have obtained another political victory as others walk around announcing our decisive defeat.”

What about international solidarity?

While we’ve assessed an array of hypothesis regarding Venezuela’s future, time is the truest test. While one may argue that it would be foolish for the opposition to carry through a coup at this time, when they are relatively close to securing a recall referendum for early next year, we have seen how often the opposition is prone to bouts of sabotage and violence at the expense of people’s stability and lives.

However, in the process of writing this piece, what remains blaringly clear is the incredible need for international grassroots movements to re-engage with Venezuela and develop a renewed sense of commitment with the Bolivarian Process. Hypothesizing serves us little in the larger scheme of Venezuela’s future.

The growing divide between the Venezuelan grassroots and global left is not only discouraging but systematically intentional.

The international media barrage with all its exaggerations, misleading headlines and largely unfounded coverage has been critical to building one of the greatest imperialist and interventionist offensives in Latin America and the Caribbean. A similar case in this hemisphere may only be said for the historically racist isolation of Haiti and the distance between the global left and the popular movements carrying on more than 200 years of revolutionary process on the island.

As the impeachment process in Brazil against Dilma Rousseff is underway, it’s necessary to redraw our shared political lines to defend Venezuelan, Latin American and ultimately oppressed nations’ sovereignty and defeat capitalism’s steadfast determination to persevere no matter what.

What the world needs is for Venezuelans to face this trying time head on and win. A coup for Venezuela would mark what promises to be an already challenging era for our political generation as this chapter of great revolutionary fiesta winds down and we are charged with the real task of building other worlds different than our present.

Venezuelans already embarked on a path to achieve the nearly impossible. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to identify, create and consolidate viable economic alternatives as well as cultural and structural shifts in society. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to decolonize and undo over 500 years of imperialism, colonization and devastation.

International solidarity needs to be ready on September 1st to accompany the Venezuelan people and defend their revolutionary process.

Paramilitaries and Polar Workers with Fake Weapons Arrested Ahead of Opposition March

By Jeanette Charles

Minister of Domestic Affairs, Justice and Peace, Néstor Reverol Torres, announced that 90 people, among them Venezuelans and foreigners, were arrested this week in Caracas for ties to paramilitary groups.Minister Néstor Reverol Torres speaks before the media after the arrest of 90 paramilitaries this week in Caracas (MPPRIJP/Osca

This news comes as two Polar workers were also arrested for transporting weapons replicas in Carabobo state.

Venezuelan authorities are heightening their national security presence this week amidst concerns that opposition protests on September 1st may turn violent or even result in a coup d’état against President Nicolás Maduro’s administration.

The Ministry’s recent arrests are part of Operation People’s Freedom and Protection – New Phase (OLP NF). More than 600 National Bolivarian Police (PNB), Armed National Bolivarian Forces (FANB) and the Scientific, Penal and Criminalistics Investigation Body (CICPC) were involved in Tuesday’s arrests in Macayapa Barrio, in Sucre Parish, stated the Minister.

Reverol asserted that the OLP NF mission is dedicated to removing paramilitaries from the area because there is “a high percentage of paramilitaries a few kilometers from Miraflores Palace.” He also stressed that, the paramilitary presence “is increasing” and suggested that this may pose a threat to the government with the objective of “destabilizing the Bolivarian Process.”

He also affirmed, “With these actions we will defeat the coup against the legitimately constituted government of our commander President Nicolás Maduro Moros… We will eliminate violence in all its forms and continue to build the country and the Bolivarian Revolution. We will go wherever necessary to liberate the people of these paramilitary groups.”

Similarly, Adhey Alexander Parra Villamizar (24) and Génesis Coromoto Caruso Rizo (23) were arrested earlier this week by the CICPC in San Diego, Carabobo state carrying replicas of rifles and pistols as well as military uniforms.

Authorities found R15, M16 and M15 model rifles as well as two Glock 17 pistols in their pickup truck trunk. In addition, there were four camouflage military uniforms and a Carabobo State Police cap.

According to reports, the two individuals could not explain why they were carrying these materials in their car. They were detained and put into the custody of the Public Ministry. They will be charged under the Law for Disarmament and Arms and Munitions Control.

Additionally, Venezuelan news outlet Correo del Orinoco reports that the two, Parra and Caruso, have participated actively in Polar company demonstrations, blaming the government for the corporation’s inability to secure raw materials for its beer production and other goods. Correo del Orinoco also reviewed Caruso’s Twitter account where she recently defamed President Maduro, referring to him as a “parasite and brute.” Caruso also encouraged Maduro to commit suicide, saying he would be doing the world and Venezuela a favor.

Allende was Wrong: Neoliberalism, Venezuela’s Student Right and the Answer from the Left

Venezuela Analysis

February 10, 2015

By Lucas Koerner 

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“Defend university autonomy for a true popular democracy.” “Freedom and Autonomy.” “Movement 13 welcomes you to study, struggle, and love.” 

No, these slogans I saw adorning the walls were not copied from the University of Chile, where I studied in 2012-2013, researching and struggling alongside the Chilean student movement that is militantly fighting to overturn the neoliberal educational regime imposed under Pinochet. But they very easily could have been. No, I was not at a militant Leftist public university; I was in Mérida, at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Los Andes (ULA), which is regarded as the principal recruiting ground for Venezuela’s rightwing student movement.

On Friday, January 23, the ULA erupted once again in violent student protests in which masked students temporarily set up barricades and attempted to forcibly enter several local stores. For local residents, these protests represented a bitter reminder of the “Guarimba,” the several months of violent opposition demonstrations in which rightwing students together with Colombian paramilitaries shut down major avenues with barricades and assassinated police and Chavista activists in a desperate bid to force the salida, or exit, of President Nicolás Maduro.

What is most confusing and troubling is the fact that the discourse of “university autonomy” has always been a slogan of the Left, which young people from Chile to Greece have utilized to defend themselves from outright repression at the hands of dictatorial regimes as well as from the far more nefarious structural violence of neoliberal privatization. Moreover, the practices of donning the capucha, or mask, setting up street barricades, and hurling molotov cocktails in pitched street battles with police are tried and true Leftist tactics developed in the course of grassroots struggles against the authoritarian capitalist state in contexts as distinct as Venezuela, France, and Palestine.

Yet in contemporary Venezuela, these historically Leftist forms of struggle, encompassing discourses, symbols, and tactical repertoires, have been appropriated by rightwing students, but with an ideological content that could not be more radially opposed: far from rebels or revolutionaries, these rightwing students are reactionaries through and through, bent on reversing the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution and restoring the oligarchic order firmly in place for 500 years prior to the conquest of power by the revolutionary grassroots movements that comprise Chavismo.

Here we are confronted by the stone-cold realization that there is nothing inherently revolutionary about young people, or students for that matter. Sadly, we are forced to concede that Salvador Allende, who famously said, “to be young and not revolutionary is a biological contradiction,” was wrong.

In what follows, I will offer some cursory notes towards an explanation of this rightward shift among certain segments of Venezuelan students together with their paradoxical appropriation of historically Leftist modes of struggle, focusing on the gentrification of the Venezuelan university as well as the ascendancy of neoliberal ideology as two crucial conditions for this overall process of ideological mutation. I will conclude with an interview with Javier, a student of political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, who currently put his studies on hold to pursue worker organizing in coordination with local communal councils. Javier will discuss the Bolivarian University as a radical pedagogical alternative from below as well as the struggles faced by revolutionary students in the face of a resurgent Right.

The Gentrification of the Venezuelan University

This dramatic ideological metamorphosis undergone by Venezuelan student movements cannot be explained outside the context of the neoliberal “gentrification” of the university. Nonetheless, this neoliberalization only came in the wake of the brutal repression of decades of radical student struggles that sought to bring down the walls that separate the “ivory tower” from the social reality of the poor, excluded majority.

At its height; the 1969 movement for “Academic Renovation” fought for a radical democratization of the university, whereby students, faculty, and university workers would have equal decision-making power; which George Ciccariello-Mahr terms a “radicalization of the very notion of autonomy itself, one that asserted autonomy from the government while insisting that the university be subservient to the needs of the wider society of which students and workers were a part.”1 As we will see later, it is precisely this more nuanced, dialectical notion of autonomy that is lacking among those presently claiming to speak on behalf of Venezuelan students.

The revolutionary Renovation movement was savagely crushed by the government of Rafael Caldera, who unceremoniously sent tanks to close down the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). Nonetheless, this outright repression was tame by comparison to the “more insidious… subtle, and long-term policy of ethnic cleansing within the public university [which was realized] by limiting popular access and returning the institutions to their previous status as refuges for the most elite segments of society.”2 This progressive embourgeoisement of the Venezuelan university prefigured a similar process that would occur globally in the context of the neoliberal turn of the subsequent decades, in which public universities from the University of California to the University of Chile saw ruthless cuts in public funding, privatization of services, dramatic tuition hikes, and creeping technocratization, all with profound implications for social class composition. That is, the youth filling the halls of Venezuelan public universities came increasingly from the ranks of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, which rendered them all the more vulnerable to the seductive appeal of neoliberal ideology.

Unfortunately, this tendency has not been entirely reversed under the Bolivarian governments of Chavez and Maduro. While the Bolivarian Revolution has seen the creation of a new system of Bolivarian universities in an effort to outflank the traditional public universities as we will see below, the government and the array of radical social forces driving it from below have thus far been unable to launch a frontal assault.

In other words, whilst these traditional universities are “public” in name and nominally free for all students, historic public universities such as the UCV nevertheless retain all kinds of classist filtering mechanisms, such as entrance exams and additional fees for registration, books, etc., that serve to effectively bar working class students from attending. Most egregious in this respect are the so-called “autonomous universities” such as the ULA, which are conferred unquestioned authority over internal decision-making, while at the same time receiving full state funding, amounting in some cases to the budget of a Caribbean nation, for which they are obligated to give little in the way of formal accounting.

Moreover, this lingering bourgeois form of education in the traditional universities is matched by a thoroughly technocratic content, in which education is conceived as the production of upwardly-mobile experts insulated from the daily struggles of the masses, who are destined to serve the bureaucratic state or capital. As Javier, a student of political economy at the recently founded Bolivarian University succinctly put it, this capitalist model of education is about getting you to subscribe to the bourgeois careerist fiction that you need to study in order to “be someone,” fetichizing education as a sterile commodity purchased like any other in order to augment one’s “human capital,” as consistent with neoliberal logic.

Given this disproportionately elite class composition and thoroughly bourgeois educational paradigm, it is no wonder then that the student federations of public universities like the UCV and the ULA are now governed by the Right.

Neoliberalism: The Illusion of Subversion

While the changing class composition of Venezuelan universities over previous decades represents an important structural factor behind the rise of Venezuela’s rightwing student movement, we cannot neglect the particular characteristics of neoliberal ideology, namely its seductive capacity for passing as radical or revolutionary. But first, what is neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism might be defined as “historical, class-based ideology that proposes all social, political, and ecological problems can be resolved through more direct free-market exposure, which has become an increasingly structural aspect of capitalism.”3 Emerging as the political response on the part of the capitalist state to the economic crisis of the 1970s, neoliberalism sought to roll back the “democratic gains that had been previously achieved by the working classes, and which had become, from capital’s perspective, barriers to accumulation.”4 It was in this context of the ‘68 revolt that the revolutionary Left and the neoliberal Right would share a proclaimed common enemy, namely an overbearing, bureaucratic state engaged in bloody imperialist wars abroad and fierce repression at home, although the anti-statism of the latter was pure rhetoric, as neoliberal politicians were content to use the state to implement their class project.5

In what followed, the post-’68 demands leveled against the capitalist state for formal individual rights by the hegemonic variants of the feminist, LGBT, civil rights, etc. movements were perfectly compatible with the neoliberal agenda, which in turn spawned the “NGOization” of Leftist politics whereby non-profits progressively took over the leadership of social movements and channeled them in a de-radicalized, localized direction.In what followed, the post-’68 demands leveled against the capitalist state for formal individual rights by the hegemonic variants of the feminist, LGBT, civil rights, etc. movements were perfectly compatible with the neoliberal agenda, which in turn spawned the “NGOization” of Leftist politics whereby non-profits progressively took over the leadership of social movements and channeled them in a de-radicalized, localized direction. These developments gave rise to the normalization of petty-bourgeois lifestyle politics, especially in the newly gentrified universities, wherein demands for “diversity” and “inclusion” of underprivileged minorities could safely be made without ruffling any feathers. Thus, the dangerous lure of neoliberal ideology lies in its ability to render individualistic lifestyle politics, i.e. demanding access to consumer items, as cathartic acts of authentic revolt and resistance. Even as critical a thinker as Michel Foucault was seduced by neoliberalism’s apparent radicalism, joining in its chorus against the welfare state and praising it as a vehicle to promote the rights of the “excluded” (prisoners, LGBT people, women, those deemed “mentally ill,” etc.).6

We should not, therefore, be surprised by the fact that a segment of Venezuelan students don the traditional clothing of the Left and actually consider themselves revolutionaries facing down what they consider an oppressive dictatorship. But we must not be fooled. What the Venezuelan Right is attempting to do is appropriate the historic slogans, symbols, and tactics of the Left, but strip them of all collective emancipatory content, which is replaced with bourgeois individualist demands for consumer choice. Thus, the “freedom” that they demand has nothing to do with the plethora of social rights conquered under the Bolivarian Revolution, but here connotes unregulated access to dollars, weekend getaways to Miami, the “right” to own and exploit.

The “autonomy” that they clamor for amounts to nothing short of total unaccountability to the rest of society, while continuing to lay claim to the latter’s resources. The militant tactics of the street barricade, the capucha, and the Molotov do not figure here as legitimate forms of mass resistance or revolutionary intervention, but represent instances of fascist, paramilitary violence enacted by individuals against a government of the people. Nonetheless, it is precisely the apparently “anti-authoritarian” character of neoliberal ideology that enables the Venezuelan student Right to retrofit traditionally Leftist forms of struggle with reactionary bourgeois content, effectively disguising their shrill cries for individualist consumer choice as a righteous chorus of social rebellion.

However, this rightwing appropriation does not go uncontested. If symbols like the capucha and the barricade ultimately constitute what Ernesto Laclau terms “empty signifiers” that can be filled with any ideological content, then their meaning is perpetually disputed in the heat of social struggle. In other words, the Right’s usurpation can and must be reversed by new generations of revolutionary young people, struggling to at once reclaim the past and win the war for a socialist future.

The Bolivarian University of Venezuela: The Answer from the Bolivarian Left

The flagship of the Bolivarian government’s revolutionary initiative for higher education, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) was founded in 2003 as part of the Mission Sucre, which has saw the radical expansion of access to quality public education among the popular classes historically excluded from the Venezuelan educational system. Today, the UBV annually graduates more students than any other institution of higher education in the country. Apart from rupturing with the traditionally oligarchic form of Venezuelan higher education, which has historically been the province of the elite, the UBV also proposes a revolution in the practical content of education, which it defines as “liberating, with criteria of social justice, inclusive, free and quality.”

I had the opportunity to sit down with Javier, a student of political economy at the Bolivarian University, who has temporarily frozen his studies in order to take on worker organizing in his community in 23 de Enero, located in the vast working class area in the west of Caracas known as Catia. He also works as a facilitator in the Bolivarian University for Workers “Jesus Rivero” in the Capital District government, which aims to raise political and class consciousness amongst public workers and prepare them for “assuming the direct and democratic management of the social process of work”. All facilitation sessions take place at the workplace itself.

His words paint a provisional picture of the depth of the revolution in educational praxis currently underway in Venezuela.

Q: Can you speak about the popular pedagogical project of the Bolivarian University?

A: Well if I were to talk about a popular project towards the structural transformation of the state and also the structural transformation of our thinking that we have currently, I would openly uphold [the example of] the Bolivarian University of the Workers, because, it’s a university that breaks with the top-down, positivist framework of education. The worker or compañero takes on the process of self-education in the space of work itself. This leads to the complete reevaluation of the education I have in my mind that I reproduce in practice, and this critical reevaluation of thought and practice lets me reinvent myself. The thinking that I have is a different kind of thought pattern that breaks with the frameworks of the capitalist system.

Moreover, our university sets down [the model of] self-education through reading, debate, and writing. This means that we don’t deny existing theories. We read the current theory, which is the systematization of struggles, for theories are the systematization of the struggles of the people, of the experience of the people. We debate this systematization, and we see if it can be adjusted to our present moment in order to not be dogmatic, but rather dialectical. Continuous, collective, integrated, and permanent self-education, that is the strategy. It is collective, because we all educate ourselves through the exchange of knowledge. It is continuous and permanent, because it never stops and we are always educating ourselves. It is integrated: We can specialize in an area, but we truly have to also know a little about everything, because labor is not an individual process, but a social one, where we all participate and we are all important in the development of the nation.

We also address the question of the management of the social labor process in order to be able to bring about structural transformations. When we talk about taking on the management of the social labor process, it’s the whole process. We realize this when we look at the arepa: the person who sows the corn, the person who harvests the corn, the person, who transports the corn, the person who processes the corn. In other words, the arepa comes out of a process in which there are very many people participating, the truck driver, the compañero in the factory, the compañera amassing the cornmeal; it’s all important work. So we propose that we take on the whole process and view ourselves as equals in struggle. This then is what permits us to truly form a culture of work that is not the competitive culture of work of the capitalist system, but rather a culture of work that guarantees the happiness of our people, we ourselves taking over the organization of what is truly socialism, the structural transformation of the state that we have.

Q: I want to follow your last point to a more macro level. How do you place the Bolivarian University in the context of the socialist struggle more broadly in society, particularly in terms of struggles over education?

A: Many of the universities teach the students a [large] number of lies that we at the Bolivarian University of Workers work to dismantle. We therefore have to dismantle the [large] number of lies that the capitalist system has sold us. One of these things that that they sell you in the universities is that you have to study to be someone. But they don’t explain to you that from the moment that you are in your mother’s womb, you already are someone, someone important. If you were to lose vital signs in the womb, your, mother would feel a great pain, and not only your mother, but your father, your closest family members. So, we are headed towards breaking with this framework of education, this deceitful education that continues to view you as labor-power.

[In contrast], the Bolivarian University of the Workers teaches, which is fundamental and essential, the review of the development of struggle in our society from the perspective of labor. How did our society undergo transformations? How were the instruments of labor forged, and how also how were the mechanisms of social division created? How did this social division take us to the point of creating systems of domination? In one moment, we lived under what was primitive communism, then we lived under slavery, and then what was feudalism, and now we are living under a system that continues to be slavery, that is the capitalist system, where they continue to dominate us with miserable wages and there’s no just distribution of wealth.

In our revolutionary Bolivarian process guided by our President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, he addressed all of these historic struggles, but he also set down the important and timely objective in our Constitution and organic law of the just distribution of wealth. And if a compañero has a great factory bought with what he says is the product of his labor, we don’t believe him above all because the amount of property that he has is the product of alien labor and he pays [his workers] a miserable portion of the wealth that he receives from their labor. So, we are going to rupture with this system, go about rethinking, to understand that we can have other forms of organization for managing public administration. It could be a counsel administration, of counsels with revolutionary leadership, where the most dedicated compañeras and compañeros are vindicated and recognized. In this dynamic, we are not saying that we [the workers] are the only historic subject of our Bolivarian process, but rather that the campesino, the fisherman, the transport worker are also important. The path of communal [organizing] is also important, and so is the struggle of the compañeras and compañeros in the student centers, who keep on despite being pounded by this education of the capitalist system. For us, it is the recognition of all of the compañeras and compañeros in our struggles that matters.

We have also proposed that this process of collective, continuous, integral, and permanent self-education has to reach the communal councils, the communes, the colectivos, the social movements, whatever organizational expression that they might have. It has to reach [these spaces], because, we have to break with and decentralize the [traditional] conception of the university. It’s a great struggle we all have to take on, because what is the university, but the universalization of knowledge. You, I, all of  the compañeros here, the bus driver, all of the people who are here in this medium of transport possess knowledge.7 What we have to do is create the spaces where we can expound the amount of knowledge that we have and expound as well the amount of needs that we have, and in function of this, begin planning [society, especially the economy] ourselves.

Q: Many young people in this society, in the universities, have been deceived, and there’s a struggle for hegemony among young people in this country. For instance, we have a rightwing student movement that is producing openly violent and fascist leaders. How do you view the role of these alternative pedagogical projects in this struggle with the Right?

A: For us, the fact that the compa is young does not mean that he is revolutionary, that he is for structural transformation. The Right has many young people, but they are old in their thinking, because they continue upholding capitalist thinking. One has to be young in different areas, physically, but above all in one´s thinking. If there is a man who we could say marked a watershed in our history, not just for decades, but for centuries, it is Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, because he shattered the framework, he imploded the schema of the bourgeois state. He imploded a space of great domination with new thinking. With liberating thinking, he imploded the space of the army, of our armed forces, a repressive organ that was directed against its own people on February 27th and 28th, 1989.8 He had a reflexive capacity, because Comandante Hugo Chávez Frias had already been doing this work. It’s continuous, it’s work that is going to take a long time, and we have to dedicate our heart and soul to the work that we are called to do and not neglect a single area.

The other task is to recognize our advances. The fact is that we have graduated an amount of compañeras and compañeros who have not graduated in forty years during which they didn’t have access to education. Yes, we can and must deepen our revolutionary process to advance towards socialism, but it’s also important to recognize all of the advances that we’ve had thus far.

Q: I went to the ULA last week and I fascinated by the discourse of autonomy and freedom appearing in their murals, the capucha that they use, all of which is an appropriation of the discourse and symbolism of the Left. How do you respond to this?

A: They have always tried to take our symbols away from us. For us, the capucha is a symbol of struggle. It’s ours. It was us who had to mask our faces [and protest in the streets], because we didn’t have an adequate education, above all in high school, but also in the university. We had many problems during the Fourth Republic, and we had to take to the streets, because they raised the student transportation fare. We had take to the streets, because we had to have class on the floor, because there were no chairs, because the roof was leaking. We lived through all of this, and for those reasons, we went out into the streets.

Today, there is a movement that is trying to take the streets, but responding to the interests of the private companies and the private media, which regrettably under our revolutionary process continue to have an economic power, which is expressed in the media, in the rumor campaigns. What we have to do is dismantle this vast amount of lies, but these rumors have an effect, because there’s a number of lies that we still have in our heads, that we have not yet dismantled. It’s a great challenge.

Evidently, many groups there [at the opposition marches] are paid, many groups that don’t truly represent our people. You can ask them. There were some compañeros of the people interviewing  some of the people who participated on January 24th in the “March of the Empty Pots,” which we might rather have called the “March of the Empty Heads,” because they don’t think. So they interviewed them and asked them if they were poor, to which they quickly respond, “I’m not poor.”

Besides, this is an example of them trying to steal our symbols, the pots, which our people took out to the streets before the Caracazo and after the Caracazo, because the pots were truly empty, there was nothing to eat. Today no, it’s an economic war, they are hoarding everything, and everyone has seen the amount of food that we have. They tell us that there is no flour, but there’s not a single arepera closed. They say that that there’s no milk, but there’s no shortage of yogurt. So they are trying to escape from the regularization of the sale of these products in order to reap greater profits, but not only to reap greater profits, but also to boycott the revolutionary government and that this unrest be directed against the revolutionary government of Nicolás Maduro.

From here, we have to go out in the streets with an alternative popular communication that engages face-to-face with our people and dismantles the large amount of lies, but we also must develop the productive forces. Beyond a crisis, well there is a crisis, but it´s a crisis of their system, a crisis of capitalism, because the socialist system still doesn’t exist yet. So we have to take advantage of this crisis of the capitalist system and come out of it advancing ahead with the development of our productive forces, evidently organized according to a distinct logic of work, a new culture of work that is liberating: labor that truly educates you to build this new republican order envisioned by our philosopher and pedagogue Simon Rodriguez, the teacher of Simon Bolivar.

 

 

Notes

1 Ciccariello-Maher, G. (2013). We created Chávez: A people’s history of the Venezuelan revolution. Durham; Duke University Press, p. 113.

2 Ibid., p. 112.

3 Marois cited in Weber, J.R. (2011). Red october: Left-Indigenous struggles in modern Bolivia. Brill: Boston, p. 30.

4 Panitch, L., & Gindin, S. (2012). The making of global capitalism: The political economy of American empire. Verso: London, p. 15.

5 Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press: New York, p. 42.

6 See Zamora, D. (2014). “Can we criticize Foucault?” Jacobin, 10 December 2014. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/foucault-interview/

7 Note: This interview was conducted on a public metro bus en route from Ciudad Caribia to Metro Gato Negro in Catia.

8 February 27 and 28, 1989 refers to the Caracazo, the explosion of mass social mobilizations rejecting neoliberal measures imposed by the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, under whose orders the army occupied the streets of Caracas and proceeded to gun down anywhere between 300 and 3000 people.

WATCH: New Paths Require a New Culture on the Left [Spanish]

Discurso de Marta Harnecker al recibir el Premio Libertador al Pensamiento Crítico 2013

 

Published on Aug 15, 2014

“El libro Un mundo a construir (nuevos caminos), ganador del premio Libertador al Pensamiento Crítico 2014, no se hubiese podido escribir sin la intervención del líder de la Revolución Bolivariana, Hugo Chávez y su participación en la historia de América Latina, destacó este viernes la investigadora chilena, Marta Harnecker, autora de ese texto.”

 

[Full text in English courtesy of Monthly Review. Adapted from the translation by Federico Fuentes for Links.]

 

 

 

Human Rights Watch Lies about Chavez and Venezuela

Human Rights Watch Lies about Chavez and Venezuela

Answering the slanders

LiberationNews.org

March 21, 2013

Chávez had a broad mandate from the masses of people not only to create social programs but to transform society.

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez Frias has died, and true to form, the vultures are circling. The establishment press and so-called “human rights” organizations are dusting off all the old slanders and lies in new articles and reports. In this alternative version of history, Chávez was an incorrigible, populist autocrat, whose sunny-sounding vision of uplifting the poor was nothing but a façade covering a corrupt, decaying dictatorship offering only the opposite of its promises.

While a few pundits have the decency to obliquely mention a few of the achievements of the Chávez government, others have absolutely no shame. Human Rights Watch, for instance, self-appointed defender of all that is right and good, has truly outdone itself—publishing a denunciation of Chávez that, paying no attention to context, ignores all signals that point to social progress and speeds right past good taste.

In fact, despite the name, HRW has written a report that will be warmly welcomed in the camp of the serial violators of human dignity banded together in the Venezuelan opposition movement as well as in Western imperialist capitals. 

Statement of the Revolutionary Government: Farewell, Commander

Statement of the Revolutionary Government: Farewell, Commander

March 5, 2013

Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations

It was with profound and searing grief that our people and the Revolutionary Government learned about the decease of President Hugo Chávez Frías and are therefore preparing to pay a heartfelt and patriotic tribute to him, for he will go down in history as a Hero of Our America.

We convey our sincere condolences to his parents, brothers, daughters and son as well as all of his relatives, whom we feel are already ours, for Chávez is also a son of Cuba, Latin America, the Caribbean and the whole world.

In this moment of profound sorrow, we share our deepest feelings of solidarity with the brother people of Venezuela, whom we will continue to accompany under any circumstances.

The Bolivarian Revolution will be able to count on our resolute and unrestricted support at these difficult moments.

We reiterate our support, encouragement and confidence in victory to our comrades of the Bolivarian political and military leadership and the Venezuelan Government.

President Chávez has been waging an extraordinary battle throughout his young and fruitful life.  We will always remember him as a patriotic military to the service of Venezuela and the Bigger Homeland; as an honest, clear-sighted, audacious and courageous revolutionary fighter; as a leader and supreme commander in whom Bolivar reincarnated in order to conclude what he had left unfinished; as the founder of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States.

His heroic and indefatigable struggle against death is an insuperable example of firmness.  The admirable commitment shown by his doctors and nurses have been a feat of humanism and dedication.

The return of the President to his beloved Venezuelan homeland changed the course of history.  “We have a homeland”, he exclaimed, filled with emotion, on December 8 last, and he returned to his homeland to confront the biggest risks imposed by his disease.  Nothing and no one could ever take away from the Venezuelan people the homeland that they have recovered.

The work of Chávez emerges undefeated before our eyes.  The achievements attained by the revolutionary people who saved him from the coup orchestrated on April of 2002, who have followed him without hesitations, are already irreversible.

The Cuban people considers him to be one of its most outstanding sons and has admired, followed and loved him as if he were its own. Chávez is also Cuban! He also suffered our difficulties and problems and did everything he could, with extraordinary generosity, especially during the harshest years of the Special Period.  He accompanied Fidel as a true son and forged a very close friendship with Raúl.

He excelled in all the international battles against imperialism, always in defense of the poor, the workers and our peoples.  Filled with passion, persuasively, eloquently, ingeniously and excitedly he spoke from the roots of the peoples; he sang our joys and recited our passionate verses with ever-lasting heroism.

The tens of thousands of Cubans who work in Venezuela will pay tribute to him through the fervent accomplishment of the international duty and will continue to accompany, with honor and altruism, the heroic deeds of the Bolivarian people.

Cuba will remain forever loyal to the memory and the legacy of Commander President Chávez and will continue to pursue his ideals in favor of the unity of the revolutionary, integration and independence forces of Our America.

His example will guide us in our future battles.

Ever Onwards to Victory!

 

The world mourns Chavez with respectful states (Haiti, Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Peru, Belarus, Iran, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, China and Nigeria) decreeing multiple days of national mourning.

The following is a list of articles/tributes (in progress)(no particular order):

  1. Evo Morales: Chavez is More Alive than Ever, Prensa Latina, La Paz, March 6, 2013
  2. Images: En fotos y videos: las impresionantes tomas aéreas de la despedida del presidente Hugo Chávez, Noticias24, Venezuela
  3. Chavez’s Triumph, by ANDRE VLTCHEK, Counterpunch, March 6, 2013
  4. El comandante has left the buildingBy Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 6, 2013
  5. Hugo Chavez: New World Rising – Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, March 6, 2013
  6. Not One Step Backward, Ni Un Paso Atrás, Preparing for a Post-Chávez Venezuelaby George Ciccariello-Maher, Counterpunch, March 6, 2013
  7. HUGO CHAVEZ, EL LIBERTADOR, Mohawk Nation News, March 6, 2013
  8. Hugo Chávez kept his promise to the people of Venezuela – Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Guardian.co.uk, March 6, 2013
  9. On the Legacy of Hugo Chávez, Greg Grandin, The Nation, March 5, 2013  The Achievements of Hugo Chavez, by Carles Muntaner, Joan Benach, Maria Paez Victor, Counterpunch, Dec 14-16, 2012
  10. Two Deaths in Venezuela Weightier than Mount Tai, onkwehonwerising, March 6, 2013
  11. Cuba: Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro’s Lost Heir, Havana Times, March 5, 2013
  12. Cuba Mourns Hugo Chavez, Havana Times, March 6, 2013
  13. The War You Don’t See, John Pilger
  14. Statement of the Revolutionary Government: Farewell, Commander – Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations, Wrong Kind of Green., March 6, 2013
  15. Hugo Chavez 1954-2013, Jody McIntyre, March 6, 2013
  16. Hugo Chavez – undefeated, Derrick O’Keefe, Green Left, March 6, 2013
  17. Hugo Chavez’ legacy in Haiti and Latin America,  Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, March 6, 2013
  18. Hugo Chavez: How he brought heating oil to Native Americans, Censored News, March 6, 2013
  19. Robert Free ‘Remembering Hugo Chavez’ Part II Amazon, Censored News, March 6, 2013
  20. Hugo Chavez, Dream Maker, Eva Golinger, Venezuelan Analysis, March 7, 2013
  21. Chavez Isn’t Dead, He Lives On with Bolivar and Mart, Elio Delgado Legon, Havana Times, March 7, 2013
  22. A Salute to Hugo Chavez: Revolutionary, Ally, Martyr, Percy Francisco Alvarado Godoy , Descubriendo verdades, March 7, 2013
  23. “Comandante, donde esté usted, gracias, mil veces gracias”: Nicolás Maduro, Cuba Debate, March 5, 2013
  24. Excellent Compilation of articles, Venezuelan Analysis
  25. Chávez’s Chief Legacy: Building, with People, an Alternative Society to Capitalism, Marta Harnecker, Monthly Review, March 7, 2013
  26. Chavez Beats the Devil, Again, Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, October 9, 2012
  27. In Death as in Life, Chávez Target of Media Scorn, His independence, help for Venezuela’s poor will not be forgiven, Fair Media Advisory, March 6, 2013
  28. Chavez, une autre victime de la CIA?, Iran French Radio, March 7, 2013
  29. Outpouring of Solidarity Statements and Condolences for the Venezuelan People [+Photos], Venezuelan Analyses
  30. The Chávez victory will be felt far beyond Latin America, Seumas Milne , The Guardian, October 9, 2012
  31. Venezuela orders U.S. Embassy attache to leave country, LA Times, March 5, 2013
  32. Chavez, Craig Murray, March 6, 2013
  33. Remembering Hugo Chavez: An Eternal Friend of the Caribbean, Kevin Edmonds, NACLA, March 7, 2013
  34. Hugo Chavez was a humble man who transformed the world – Rick Rozoff, John Robles, March 7, 2013
  35. Hugo Chavez, Anti-Imperialist Stalwart: 1954-2013, Antonio Moren, Anti-Imperialism.com, March 7, 2013
  36. Malcolm X Grassroots Movement & New Afrikan People’s Organization Statement on the Passing of President Hugo Chavez Frias, March 8, 2013, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
  37. U.S. and Canada Isolated as Latin American Leaders Acknowledge Chávez’s Regional Leadership, March 8, 2013, Sara Kozameh, Center for Economic and Policy Research
  38. Hugo Chávez Frías: An Unforgettable and Victorious Permanence, Maximilian Fort, Zero Anthropology, March 8, 2013
  39. Comunicado, Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, March 8, 2013
  40. “Commander, they could not beat you, they will never beat us”, Caracas, March 8, 2013, AVN.
  41. A red salute to Comrade Hugo Chavez!, Red Youth, March 6, March 8, 2013
  42. Mohawk Women rallied with Hugo Chavez against Colonial Oppression,  Censored News, March 8, 2013
  43. Why Do Venezuelan Women Vote for Chavez?, Maria Paez Victor, Counterpunch, April 25th 2012
  44. Hugo Chavez proves you can lead a progressive, popular government that says no to neo-liberalism, Owen Jones, The Independent, Oct 8, 2012
  45. The Future of the Human Race | The Most Eloquent Speech to the United Nations in 2011, Canadians for Action on Climate Change, Nov 18, 2011
  46. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Chavez: Inside the Coup [If there was ever an inspiring  film – this is it. If you have never watched it before it is essential viewing. It clearly demonstrates how imperative it is to understand manipulation by media, who are, like the non-profit industrial complex, an extension of hegemonic rule. Further, the film demonstrates the power of the people when it is understood that power concedes nothing without demand.]

Recommended websites:

Venezuela: The Birth of an Alliance for a Coup

AVN

March 17, 2012

Less than a month before a coup d’état staged against the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas was born a civil association named Alliance for Freedom, aimed at fighting communism “radically” and destabilizing the country.

This way was stated in the local newspaper El Universal, on March 17th, 2002, in an article titled “Alliance for Freedom to face the Left.”

In an opening ceremony, the Alliance’s coordinator and former political party leader Agustin Berrios said they would “battle to get rid of Chavez” and the causes “that brought us to Chavez,” reported the mentioned newspaper.

The goals of the Alliance for Freedom were once again exposed when former chief of the state oil company PDVSA, Andres Sosa Pietri, who attended the ceremony, defended the idea that PDVSA would change into “a public enterprise with private shares.” Such option allows to begin a process of undercover privatization, as one denounced several years ago in the Mexican oil company Pemex.

But the birth of the Alliance for Freedom was not an isolated fact. Days earlier, statements and calls for unrest added up: on March 15, Eddie Ramirez -director of Pamalven, PDVSA subsidiary- called to “a peaceful resistance” after President Chavez appointed a new board of directors for the company; on March 13, PDVSA managers began their first actions against the Executive; throughout the month, private newspapers called openly or undercover, through articles, opinion and even ads, to remove President Chavez from office.

“Radically opposed to communism and overall leftism and with a proposal marked by liberal democracy, the rule of law and market economy” were the “ideals” of the organization, according to El Universal report.

Since President Hugo Chavez took office in 1998, simultaneously began the US financing of civil associations and non-governmental organizations that were the spearheads of the opposition against the Bolivarian Revolution.

In December 2007, the website Cubadebate interviewed US researcher Jeremy Bigwood, who had released some papers about the White House financing to Venezuelan NGOs.

The analyst explained that before the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) installed a seat in Caracas, there had already began “a financial support” to those associations, aimed at “speeding up the transition of the Chavez Administration to other government.”

Documents released by Bigwood show that OTI spent 26 million dollars in Venezuela between 2002 and 2006.

Meanwhile, researcher Eva Golinger said that OTI “installed illegally in Venezuela in 2002 to encourage actions against the Hugo Chavez Government,” that it also channeled “multimillionaire funds” for opposing parties, including the private organization Sumate, headed by current rightist deputy Maria Corina Machado.

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