VENEZUELA: Note book from Caracas: Eyewitness to revolution

April 13, 2005

Roberto Jorquera, an activist from the Venezuelan Solidarity Network in Australia, is in Caracas to help prepare for the solidarity brigade the network is organising from July 25-August 15, and to report on the unfolding revolution there. Regular updates from Jorquera are being posted at <www.venezuelasolidarity.org>.

2 million army reservists to be signed up

On April 3, on his weekly TV program Alo Presidente, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that his government is aiming to establish a 2-million-strong army reserve. The plan comes after a series of threatening statements by senior US officials against the Venezuelan government.

Chavez declared on the program: "We are going to have 2 million army reservists, but we are also going to have a 25-million-strong population ready to defend every corner of the country. If someone came to take over this country, we would make them eat dirt!"

Chavez asked mayors and governors to work with General Quintero Viloria, who is to be in charge of both the army reserve and creating a "national mobilisation". According to Chavez, the "national mobilisation" aims to include the whole population in preparing for defence in case of an invasion.

Viloria told Chavez on the program that the army reserve is currently "very weak", comprising just 80,000 people, who have not yet received military training. Viloria said that the aim is to have 10% of the population participating in the army reserve.

Indigenous people march against coal mining

More than 600 representatives from the Indigenous communities of Wayuu, Bari and Yukpa marched on the presidential palace on March 31 to protest the exploration of coal in the mountain regions of Perija and Zulia. Protesters intended to present Chavez with documentation of the negative effects that coal mining is having on the local communities, including serious respiratory illnesses among Perija mine workers and accidents on the highway to the mine.

Alvaro Acontacai, a representative from the Bari ethnic community, explained at the rally that the protest had been organised in consultation with various social, political and environmental organisations. He explained that the whole Bari region and sections of Santa Cruz de Mara, El Bajo de San Francisco, La Ceiba and la Canada are filled with a dust cloud which is a result of the mining of coal.

Coal production operations are carried out by consortiums formed between the Venezuelan state-owned company Carbozulia and a number of transnational corporations. Many of the indigenous protesters made it clear they support Chavez, but they were determined to let Chavez know they wanted the mining, with its negative social and environmental consequences, to stop.

The 'battle of ideas'

The revolutionary process that is unfolding in Venezuela is most sharply defined in the battle of ideas that is expressed in all spheres of Venezuelan society. The government slogan "Venezuela is now for everyone!", is used on poster billboards and television ads. Venezuela's state television, Channel 8, screens regular segments explaining government programs that benefit the poor as well as discussion on proposed changes.

In contrast, the opposition uses the private media to run a campaign against the government, based on continuing distortions and lies about what is really happening in Venezuela.

Every new law that the government intends to pass is subject to public discussion and debate within social and political organisations. State TV provides space for the government to explain its intentions. Regular interviews are also held with those who will be affected by the proposed changes.

One thing that strikes a visitor is the high level of political discussion and debate that takes place on the streets — a reflection of the deep radicalisation among the Venezuelan population. Copies of the laws that the government passes can be easily purchased at street stalls throughout the centre of Caracas. Newspapers and bulletins from various government agencies are widely available on the streets, such Word and Media, the newspaper produced by the ministry of communication.

Its March edition covered topics such as the US media's war of words against Venezuela; the planned launch of Telesur, a Venezuelan government-supported Latin America-wide TV station); Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and his ideas on the development of social consciousness through community-based media; the development of community radio throughout Venezuela; and the negative effects of billboard advertising, such as a six-storey-high Nescafe cup that sits atop of one of Caracas' skyscrapers and the numerous billboards that objectify women's bodies.

Government confronts shortage of housing

"This is the socialism that we are building, one based on justice and equality and that constructs homes for people so that they can own them", declared the mayor of Caracas, Juan Barreta, at a ceremony at Plaza Bolivar on April 1. The ceremony was to hand over housing titles to more than 250 residents in Caracas who did not have the financial capability to own their own home.

The minister for housing, Julio Montes, explained at the ceremony that "we need more than 1 million new houses to solve the [housing problem for the poor] ... We need to eradicate the preferential treatment of the past where people received homes depending who they new rather than based on need".

Referring to the problems in making the promises of the revolution materialise, Montes insisted "We need a revolution within the revolution ... it needs to be based on more than just words....The Bolivarian revolution is one based on action and on an organized population".

The problem of providing decent housing for the poor has been a major issue for the government, especially in Caracas. A new housing law, recently passed by the National Assembly, sets out a new system to build and fund the construction of new homes, directly involving cooperatives made up of the poor who benefit from the housing program as well as the private sector.

According to the new law, government municipalities need to create a registry of who needs homes in their area. In response to recent comments made by US state department spokesperson Richard Boucher that Venezuela is a "destabilizing forcing in Latin America", Montes said to those gathered "'We have overcome a coup, what we have learnt is that when the people rise up nothing can stop them...You are the centre and the power of the revolution...No gringo will be able to enter No Pasaran!"

[Please think about donating to GLW to help us maintain a journalist in Caracas. For details, see ad on opposite page, or visit <http://www.greenleft.org.au>.]

From Green Left Weekly, April 13, 2005.

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