Venezuelans speak: Revolution changing people's lives
The moves by US oil giant Exxon-Mobil to freeze more than US$12 billion in assets in Britain, the Netherlands, the Dutch Antilles and the United States belonging to Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA is just the latest in a long line of attacks led by the US government on the government of President Hugo Chavez — which is seeking to construct a "socialism of the 21st Century".
Asides from providing millions of dollars worth of funding to opponents of Chavez, this year the US government has escalated its attempts to isolate Venezuela internationally, with US officials making a series of unfounded allegations about Venezuelan complicity in the drug trade, backing for left-wing guerrillas and supposed restrictions on democracy — despite a February 1 US-based Human Rights Watch report finding that Venezuela was "basically democratic".
The attack by ExxonMobil, however, is an escalation of hostilities because it strikes at Venezuela's life blood — its oil industry.
The wealth created by Venezuela's oil industry underpins the gains made by the Bolivarian revolution, as the process of change led by the Chavez government is known. A massive increase in social spending has resulted in a significant drop in poverty — from more than 60% of households living in poverty in 2003 to just over 30% by 2007.
Oil revenues — which account for 90% of the Venezuelan government's total export revenue — have also been pumped into a growing number of "missions", social programs aimed at tackling the most pressing needs of the poor. Free education has been significantly extended with millions of new students at all levels. Illiteracy has been eradicated. Thousands of new health care clinics have been constructed, providing free health care in areas that have never had access to a doctor before.
The government has also sought to promote popular power through the creation of institutions such as the communal councils, elected by communities of between 200 and 400 families, that have control over their neighbourhoods and programs run within it. Government spending is also aimed at breaking Venezuela's reliance on oil revenue through a process of pro-people development of the national economy known as "endogenous development".
These gains for the majority of Venezuelans are the direct result of the policies adopted by the Chavez government, especially relating to the oil industry. The Chavez government has halted the partial privatisation of PDVSA carried out by previous governments, brought PDVSA under full government control and significantly increased royalties paid by foreign companies operating in Venezuela.
The government has also carried out a nationalisation program to force all private oil companies operating in Venezuela into joint ventures with PDVSA, giving the Venezuelan state at least a 60% stake. While most companies have cut their losses and agreed to negotiate a deal with the Venezuelan government, which offers full compensation at market value for its nationalisations, ExxonMobil have refused to negotiate and has launched its legal assault in retaliation.
While the corporate-owned media bombard us with propaganda about the "strong man" Chavez, a populist "dictator-in-the-making" the voices of ordinary Venezuelans are largely excluded.
However, the Venezuelan people have not just repeatedly elected Chavez, but have fought in the streets to defend his popular government — with a mass uprising of the poor defeating a US-backed coup attempt in April 2002 that briefly ousted Chavez.
It is the working people who are struggling to make the revolution a reality on the ground, and it is this mass movement of ordinary people that are the real target of the attacks by Exxon-Mobil, and ongoing attacks by the US government.
Tamara Pearson, a member of the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective — a Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance — is currently working as a teacher in the Venezuelan state of Merida. She spoke to a number of Venezuelans who have not just directly benefited from the changes that have accompanied the revolution, but are active participants in it. Tamara's blog on her experiences in Venezuela is
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Rita Zambran, Mission Sucre (program providing free university education) student, United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) member
I support the president because he has given many good things to the country and also because he gives us the opportunity to study and values the work and needs of everyone, like the farm workers and people in isolated towns.
The revolution is beautiful. It's given me the opportunity to study. The biggest challenge is to continue going forward, defending the revolution
Nelly Diaz, councillor and teacher
[I support the revolutionary process] first of all because it permits me to participate in all aspects of our nation, I am an active participator.
Secondly, because for so many years I was an excluded person, from education and so on, and four years later I'm a licensed teacher.
I believe in the process. The revolution has caused a change, not just for me but for my family as well. We won't be passive people, but protagonists in this process and this revolution.
[Our challenge is] firstly to raise the consciousness of Venezuelans, secondly to involve the greatest amount of people possible in the process. We must defeat "Yankee-ism" and corruption.
Luis Diaz, primary school teacher, PSUV member
[This government] is the best that we've had. It has brought good changes for the country. It has improved my life 100&, I have work, I am studying, thanks to the president.
[The main challenges are in the areas of] housing, health, education, work and ideology.
Dalia Gutierrez, Mission Sucre student
[I support Chavez] because he's giving us the opportunity to study and integrate ourselves into the community. [The revolution] is the start of a new decade — the integration of a innovative project.
[Our biggest challenge lies] in the sowing of a new education that benefits the communities and the search for a common purpose.
Yoleida James, private college worker
I support Chavez because of the project that he has to involve more of the people who are needy. For the social sensibility that he has and the opportunity that he has given us to study. We were excluded before.
This revolution is an innovation that has broken with the paradigms of the Fourth Republic [as the period, dominated by two corrupt parties, from the establishment of formal democracy in 1958 until Chavez's election in 1998 is known].
[The revolution has brought] the progressive development of life and inclusion. It's main challenges relate to creating the missions and endogenous development
Roman Pena, State Legislative advisor and teacher
[I support the revolution] because a change was lacking and now there are many proposals that are developing beautifully because they mean a new and different vision.
The revolution has meant the possibility to create a new world for all Venezuelans. I've had the opportunity to actively participate in [creating] solutions.
Pablo Rivera, Mission Sucre journalism student and guide in a tourism collective
[I support Chavez and the revolutionary process] for the search for, and rescue of, the Latin American identity.
The revolution means possibilities, such as the possibility to study and work in my own company [as part of a collective]. [The revolution means] every day obtaining more autonomy.
Our biggest challenge is Latin American unification into one big country.
Raquel Barrios, university technical advisor, PSUV member
[I support Chavez] in general because his political principles are what we should be doing to make socialism. Also because of his spontaneity. His government vision, for me, is the right one.
The revolution has to confront the deplorable cultural level that the vast majority of Venezuelans have. The major challenges are in education and trying to instil commitment and patriotism, and eliminate the individualist desire for power.
And at this time, [we also have to] struggle against external factors such as international politics, which is prejudiced against our process.
The revolution has created my interest in working for the common good. It has encouraged me to believe that social change, that benefits all, is possible.