- International Exchange Programme, the aim of which is to coordinate a network of critical researchers who will make Venezuela one of the nodes of this network, the idea being to foster exchanges with relevant researchers and social activists all over the world. To do this, we have envisaged having people come and stay for up to three months to do research at CIM. During these visits, researchers will be able to give seminars and do further research into subjects relevant to the Bolivarian Revolution. Thus CIM will be helping to develop the premises of an alternative kind of integration as set forth in ALBA.
- Critical Pedagogy and Bolivarian Educational Management. This looks at the way the educational philosophy of the education system and the missions put in practice by the Bolivarian process are working. It also studies the most progressive educational theory from all over the world thus helping fulfill the goals set forth in the Constitution in the area of education.
- Training Programme. The purpose of this program is to help to provide cadres with the critical ability to handle such things as the basic concepts of economics, politics, sociology, education, history and law; to give them a thorough understanding of the Bolivarian Revolutionary process, the tools for top level public administration in a society heading towards socialism; knowledge about the way socialism developed in the twentieth century and the perspective for twenty first century socialism; the ability to design, implement and evaluate public policies. This programme also hopes to study, evaluate and complement the various Government and Citizenship Schools that exist in the world, especially those in Latin America.
- Twenty First Century Socialism. This program’s aim is to encourage reflection, discussion and further study on a new model of socialism for which there are no models, paradigms or valid canons. This programme has also taken on the task of evaluating all the great socialist experiments of the past and the successful practices that are building “partial socialisms” all across the planet and which, generally, are ignored by both the media and academia .
- Popular Participation in Public Administration. This program is focused on studying the subject of participation by the people, one of the main axes of the new model for the society Venezuela wants to build. It helps set the stage for foreign advisers to come and bring their technical knowledge and experience to support those mayors and governors who ask for help in areas such as: the participatory budget, decentralisation, social auditing, community banks, etc. It also proposes to: cooperate with experts from other countries in following up on the innovative forms of participation that are being put into practice in this country, especially the innovative experience of the communal councils; to help to train Venezuelan cadres for participation by inviting international experts to give courses and workshops in various areas related to participation; to inform people abroad about Venezuelan experiences in participation.
- Program concerning the New Model of Production. This program enters the debate about the kind of economy that can replace capitalism, by a focus that engages with the logic of an economy based on human beings and the environment. In order to do this, an analysis must be made of the concrete way capitalism functions, especially in Latin America as well as an analysis of the alternatives that are creating important referents in the field of endogenous development. This program will study emerging subjects such as social production companies, the different paths followed by the people’s economy and the social economy: cooperativism, social management of oil income, the environmental paradigms of various modes of production, the balance and the challenges of experiments in co-management, self-management and worker control, the approaches to production chains, fair trade and complementarity as a lever to bring about integration.
- Program Practices which Transform Human Development. At the heart of the Bolivarian Revolution lies the notion that people develop their skills and abilities through their activity, that concept which Marx put forward as the essence of revolutionary practice, the simultaneous transformation of circumstances and oneself, or self-transformation. The aim of the research work that CIM will undertake is to begin to develop both the concepts and the measuring tools that will allow us to evaluate the progress the Bolivarian Revolution has made towards reaching the goals set forth in the constitution.
- Program on Regional Integration Agreements and Multilateral Agreements. This analyses the possibilities of finding an alternative form of globalization and analyses the counterhegemonic path proposed by the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples. In a globalized world, we must have a critical analysis of international agreements and institutions (WTO; FTAs, FTAA, IMF, WB) whose role is to maintain the strong differences we see on the international scene and this critical analysis must go hand in hand with alternative proposals which, from a social, ecological and human point of view, seek to replace the capitalist model.
- Program of reflection on the Role of the Media: Towards a Science of Media Criticism. The latter will, taking into account of the role of fourth power that big media companies play, study the way the media manipulate and will lay the foundations for a network of media that present an alternative to the big media companies.
Mark Langhammer – National Executive member of the Irish Labour Party
At last Sunday’s Venezuelan election, the incumbent President, Hugo Chavez was re-elected by a long distance. Chavez won 62.89% of the vote ahead of his main rival, Manuel Rosales, who polled 36.85% with final results expected some time next week.
As I write, I can anticipate the US backed ‘line’ that the election was fraudulent, that there was intimidation at the polls etc etc. Being in Caracas for the week preceding the election has be a privilege. Large street rallies have been held, invariably good natured, with latin american salsa music to the fore, and a carnival atmosphere. Its like no election I’ve ever been involved in. Think of Andersonstown if Antrim won the all Ireland, or Derry City centre if the Candystripes won the EUFA cup and you’d be getting somewhere close. I toured a range of polling stations across Caracas – in both “Chavista” and opposition territories, and long queues at polling booths were orderly. Turn out was high at 75% and the electronic voting system has been reliable and has earned confidence – in contrast to the shambles in electronic voting introduced under the Fianna Fail administration in Ireland. Opposition turned out thousands on the Monday following the election to protest – I can only say that it looked like as fair an election as I’ve seen. Bin any propaganda you hear to the contrary.
Over the past week, our delegation has had a hectic programme of events, many laid on by Venezuelan National Assembly member, Augusto Montiel. I will report next week on the community health programmes the literacy and education ‘Missions’, the youthful socialist media information and television, the barrios self help and cultural work, as well as the development of community councils. On arrival, I spoke on national radio of the solidarity of labour and trade unionists from Ireland. We met senior officials planning the economy of the future. It is a vision of involvement at every level, from small business to worker management in large enterprises which puts the development of the human being at the centre of all things. The oil company PDVSA has an active role in promoting and funding social justice. Another highlight was a forensic lecture from lawyer Eva Golinger on the background and history of US efforts to destabilize the administration, based on her Freedom of Information searches and her book, “Breaking the Chavez Code” (ISBN 959-09-0307-X).
From literacy projects to self employment preparation, from neighbourhood soup kitchens, to the Co-Op food Mercals, the Bolivarian Revolution has activated a layer of the poorest in Venezuelan society. The result has been a popular, empowering and humane revolution – with a highly politicized, involved and active civil society. It is a society that people from Belfast will instantly recognize, but one which reaches from the bottom to the top of all planning – economic, political and social. As someone involved in political life for over 20 years it is without question, the most inspirational, dogma free, non ideologoical, practical and encouraging vision that I have ever witnessed.
The Chavez factor is important. Chavez is a highly effective communicator, at once evangelical and caring – a man with a “big heart”, someone who has touched a very deep well of need. He has long worked for civilian and military collaboration – from the socialist camp for sure, but reaching way beyond factions and party formations.
His appeal is only recently overtly socialist, but is primarily national – or Bolivarian. He preaches national sovereignty, Latin American solidarity and unity and has broached the issue of a Latin American NATO and a single regional currency and will work for a restoration of the 18th Century Gran Columbia (Colombian, Venezuela, Ecuador unity), linking with Cuba, Argentina and Brazil to form a bulwark against neo-liberal and USA interference (of which there is plenty). But it the manner in which he has connected and activated previously disengaged and impoverished sections of society – the indigenous peoples, the campesinos (small farmers, 10,000 of whom rode on horseback through Caracas last year in support of Chavez) and women in society that has made the difference. And race hate by the wealthy and white settler goes some way to explaining the fear felt for the Chavez administration (the economic interests of the wealthy have been left largely untouched). Repeated US backed efforts to destabilize this very democratic, grass roots development are lavishly funded.*
The political system in Venezuela from 1958 to 1998 was nominally democratic. The two main parties were the hegemonic Accion Democratica (which could be loosely termed as Social Democrats) and Copei (Christian Democrats). Through the pact of Punto Fijo both sought to limit opportunity for other political groupings. Both had vast memberships, as joining was a means of getting on, getting influence or getting a job. Accion Democratica, in particular, enjoyed cosy relations with the Confederacion de Trabajadores Venezolanos (CTV) union movement (which in part, was funded through the American Federation of Labour (AFLCIO).Equally, Civil servants in the Ministries, including Education, would be largely comfortable with the status quo and resistant to change. It should be noted that the TUC has established fraternal relations with UMT, a new and rival union movement which – whilst not necessarily pro-Chavez – accepts and works within Venezuelan Constitution and democracy.
In the 1960’s and 70’s the governments undertook significant infrastructural improvements, but the mass of a poor society were largely disengaged from political life. The economy slumped in the 80’s and was subjected to brutal neo-liberal reforms which sharply affected the poorest. Chavez’s rise was linked to the gradual politicization and mobilization of a vast ‘underclass’ of the excluded. It should be noted, however, that although the administration is redistributing oil revenue in programmes for the poorest, the basic structure of the economy has not been radically altered, and Venezuela’s wealthy classes have remained largely untouched.
- The household poverty rate was thus reduced by nearly 5 percentage points, or 12.9 percent, from 42.8 percent in the first half of 1999 (when President Chavez took office) to 37.9 percent in the second half of 2005. Since the economy has continued to grow rapidly this year (first quarter growth came in at 9.4 percent), the poverty rate is almost certainly significantly lower today.
- There is no evidence that the Venezuelan National Institute of Statistics has changed its methodology, so these numbers are directly comparable. The most recent figures are about what would be expected as a result of the rapid economic recovery.
- Most of the erroneous reporting on this issue results from using numbers gathered in the first quarter of 2004. These numbers reflect sharp increase in the poverty rate caused by the severe economic downturn of 2002-2003.
- Since the preliminary poverty numbers for 2005 were released in September 2005, it is not clear why the out-of-date, early 2004 numbers have continued to be widely used. The early 2004 numbers quickly became out of date because of the rapid growth of the Venezuelan economy in 2004 (17.9 percent) and 2005 (9.4 percent), which pulled millions of people out of poverty.
- The reduction in poverty noted above, since 1999, measures only cash income. This, however, does not really capture the changes in the living standards of the poor in Venezuela, since there have been major changes in non-cash benefits and services in the last few years – for example health care is now provided to an estimated 54 percent of the population. The paper looks briefly at the impact of these changes.