The Ebb and Flow of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution

Jeremias de Castero – BASICS Issue #18

Over the past two decades, February has developed into an important month in Venezuela’s history, as Venezuelans celebrate the anniversary of the official beginning of the “Bolivarian Revolution” – now in its eleventh year.

They are also celebrating the twenty-first anniversary of the Caracazo, the popular rebellion in Caracas on February 27, 1989, which marked a real turning point in the emergence of the power of the people in Venezuela’s recent history.

And of course, they are celebrating the emergence of their popular leader, Hugo Chávez Frías.

The accomplishments and strengths of the revolution fall under two main headings. The main strength of the revolution is how it has included a process of development of communal powers: the development of people power.

That is, since its formal inception with the 1998 election of Chávez to the presidency and the ensuing 1999 constitutional assembly, the revolution was envisioned as needing the creation of institutionally-protected popular power.

Popular power has been steadily developing ever since. Even with false starts and dead endings, there can be no doubt that the democracy as practiced in Venezuela is more participatory for Venezuelans than any form  practiced in Canadian history.

The second main strength of the revolution is the educational and health “misiones” (missions), which have allowed millions of Venezuelans who had lacked both basic education and health services to gain access and control over such services. While the misiones are mandated from the government, the communities themselves run and decide the priorities of the services to be provided.

On the other hand, the Government, as constituted through its bureaucracy, remains a highly corrupt body, and the revolution has yet to do away with a bureaucracy that has always leached from Venezuelans. Guaranteeing that the people of Venezuela remain sovereign over the various levels of government is a constant tension.

Further, in recent months, there have been both major food and electricity shortages. But with the nationalization of a big supermarket chain, the food shortages should soon be resolved and there have been several proposals to deal with the electrical problem.

Another weakness for Venezuela is its vulnerability to outside interference. The United States has always interfered with the rest of the Americas, but now Canada is playing a far more open role in interfering in the region.

Canadian interference has been an unfortunate part of Venezuela’s recent history and has included – but not been limited to – covert support for the 2002 coup against the revolution, financing the right-wing opposition, bad-mouthing Venezuela’s impressive accomplishments, and supporting extreme-right regimes in the region that could be used as proxies in a potential regional war (i.e. Colombia). This form of interference in Venezuela has straddled both Liberal and Conservative governments in Canada over the past ten years.

There’s a lot that people in North America can learn from the heroic struggles unfolding in Latin America today. Furthermore, there’s a lot we can learn about our own “democracies” here in North America, by looking at how our governments are working to undermine deeply democratic people-power movements abroad.

Working-class and progressive Canadians and Americans must stop their governments from interfering in Latin America.



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