segunda-feira, 1 de setembro de 2008

Crónicas da República Bolivariana (VI)

Já Voltei! O ritmo aumentou de tal forma que não consegui ir actualizando o blog... Aqui vão umas fotos a vulso de fábricas que visitei, entrevistas com lideres populares, com o vice-presidente do PSUV, com a oposição a Chavez, paisagem, manifes, etc...

Tal como disse gravei sons de toda a viagem que serão a matéria prima para produzir um relato da viagem na radio.esquerda. Quero ver também se escrevo um txt e faço uma apresentação Power Point.

Aqui vai o link com um txt publicado por um dos Norte Americanos do grupo, no fim deste post coloco tb o relatório elaborado pela organização que promoveu a visita.

Vou dando notícias :)

Report on MITF Venezuela Delegation Aug. 9-19, 2008
by Chuck Kaufman

The Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas delegation to Venezuela was co-sponsored by SOA Watch and the Venezuela Solidarity Network, but except when helping out delegation leader Lisa Sullivan when requested, it was my vacation and I enjoyed not having to be responsible for the 21 people on the tour. The group was enriched by the participation of two young men from Portugal and an older couple who fled the repression in Argentina in 1975.

We spent little time in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, having only four meetings. We met with the North American section of the Foreign Ministry where I was able to give them our VSN proposal for them to set up an office in Venezuela to coordinate international solidarity in order to greatly increase the number of people who can visit Venezuela and witness the incredible things that are going on there with their own eyes. Curiously, the Portuguese guys three week visit was planned for them by the European section of the Foreign Ministry and they even picked them up at the airport. So, it is something of a mystery that they don't seem as interested in getting US citizens down there considering that the greatest threat to the Bolivarian process comes from the US government. Lisa got a call from the Foreign Ministry a couple of days later and was told that they are taking our proposal seriously.

I was also able to give the proposal to Sr. Jenny, a Maryknoll nun who is highly respected by influential members of the government for her work in one of the poor barrios. We participated in the Sunday service at her liberation theology church and met afterwards with a theologian who also works with the food and literacy programs.

I also gave a copy of the proposal to the head of the institute where future diplomats are trained. I don't know if that one will go anywhere, but figured it couldn't hurt. The final copy of the proposal I gave to one of the delegates who was going with the Portuguese to give to the European Section of the Foreign Ministry when they met with them after I left. He is to ask for that section's support for the proposal.

So, it looks like I effectively managed to bypass whatever, or whoever, has been sitting on our proposal in DC. Lisa Sullivan, who is now full-time SOA Watch Latin America coordinator will continue to push the proposal. She has led 20 delegations in the last two years and both understands the importance of people witnessing the reality and knows she can't keep up the pace of delegations by herself.

What is the reality in Venezuela? Well, there are lots of realities. It's still a very polarized country although I felt less tension than on previous trips, a feeling that Lisa confirmed. That is especially significant given that governors and mayors are being elected in November, and since much of the opposition boycotted the last municipal elections there are inevitably going to be opposition gains in the upcoming elections. As Eva Golinger told us in the fourth and last Caracas meeting, "South America is already a liberated zone, US hegemony is a thing of the past!"

There is also the reality that so much money is pouring into the economy as a result of the oil boom that inflation and prices are staggering. I paid $7.00 for an ice cream cone in the wealthy city of Valencia, but even elsewhere it was tough to eat lunch for under $10. However, gas is the cheapest in the world ($0.30 a gallon, I think) so everyone is on the road every minute of the day and night which makes travel nightmarish. It took us a 10 hour microbus ride to get from Sanare to the hotel near the airport on our final day. The distance was 200-250 miles.

The fact that things are booming may be a partial explanation for the lower tensions as well. An opposition leader we met with in Valencia said that businessmen are making so much money that they support the government although they'd never admit it!

Venezuela is a bigger country than I realized. It is more than twice the size of California. Most of the population of 28 million is concentrated in the North with the South mainly Amazon rainforest. We traveled a small portion of that Northern area hitting Barlovento, the center of Afro-Venezuelan life and where the world's best chocolate (cacao) is grown, Barquisimeto, the fourth largest city, a Caribbean beach town, a desert community, and went up into the foothills of the Andes.

In Barlovento we visited a cacao cooperative. Previously they had to export their cacao to Europe where it was turned into chocolate but now they are beginning to produce their own which is much more profitable.

The two big stories of the Bolivarian process are cooperatives, businesses that are owned and run by the workers who all receive the same compensation for their work, and communal councils which are supplanting traditional forms of representative government with participatory democracy.

Both are a mixed bag as one would expect in a country undergoing one huge and messy social experiment. The government is promoting cooperatives big time. Where people get good training in advance and understand what they are doing the cooperatives are a success and the people we met with were incredibly proud of what they have accomplished. However, many cooperatives, as much as 50%, have failed or are inactive. But, if I remember right, 50% of US businesses fail in their first three years as well, so the result is not unexpected nor an indication that the concept is wrong.

Besides the cacao cooperative we visited a bakery cooperative in Barquisimeto, a roofing tile cooperative in the small desert community of San Felix, two coffee cooperatives in Guapo, and a coffee cooperative of cooperatives which processes and markets the coffee, cutting out the middleman and increasing the profits for the producer coops. The brand new beneficio ( processing plant) broke my heart because it was so much more advanced than anything I've seen in Nicaragua. It recycles the water that is used to remove the pulp rather than dumping it and all the waste into the rivers and streams like happens in Nicaragua. They then use the pulp to fertilize crops. The inner husk they use as fuel for the machines which additionally saves on energy use.

We also visited Lisa's home in Sanare in the foothills of the Andes which she's been building for the last 15 years. You feel like you can see all the way to Canada from her porch, one of the most incredible views I've ever seen. I don't know how she ever leaves the place.

The other part of the story of the Bolivarian process is the communal councils. I'm leaving out the Missions from this account because by now everyone knows that illiteracy has been eradicated, health care is available free to all, special markets provide basic foods at prices even the poor can pay, etc. etc.

For me, I look for things in the Bolivarian process that are applicable in the United States. It's not that the US wouldn't also benefit from universal health care, etc., but those are not going to bring fundamental change to the US as would cooperatives and participatory democracy.

Communal councils are voluntary bodies in communities, both urban and rural. San Felix, the community we visited where they make the roofing tiles, has only 115 people, but their communal council has 15 committees ranging from health and education to sports, and uniquely for them, tile making. The community councils prioritize among their needs and apply to the municipality for money. This community is part of Carora where Mayor Julio Chavez (no relation to Hugo) has turned the entire municipal budget over to the communal councils. Representatives from each meet and decide where the money goes with 35% of it allocated to the rural areas. In San Felix, the church where we met had a blackboard where the results of their communal council prioritization was recorded. A majority prioritized building a fence around the school to keep the goats out – the other economic activity of the community.

I realized, during our meeting with Mayor Chavez, who by the way, was one of the panelists at our VSN symposium in April, that at some point participatory democracy becomes representative democracy no matter what you desire. For issues larger than the community, someone has to represent the community because everyone in a municipality, much less a state or the entire nation, can't all come together to make a decision. The difference is that no one gets paid to be that representative so it is more a responsibility than an honor to be competed for. However, it is easy to see that 20 years from now it could become ossified with the same people being chosen as representatives each time, especially if they move toward paying them. If that happens, they'll need another reform at that time. In the meantime, every individual feels much more empowered and like they are an important part of the process than we feel in the United States.

Just a couple more observations before I close.

When I returned to my office I found an email from someone who I've worked closely with in the VSN for the past three years. He's married to a Venezuelan and, though living now in the US, has lived and worked in Venezuela for many years. They had just returned from a month in Venezuela and he was dispirited, feeling that the revolution is being betrayed by bureaucrats and opportunists and errors by the government. Venezuela is a country that had a revolution through the ballot box rather than by force of arms. Violent revolutions sweep out the old and transform everything overnight. Venezuela has chosen an incremental path which will take constant vigilance by the people to preserve and advance. One man at the top cannot transform a society; he can only open spaces for the people themselves to do that. We'll need 20 years to see if the Bolivarian process is a successful model for the rest of the world.

But, a couple of things give me hope. In Barcimiento, where Lisa lived for most of the 30 years she's been in Venezuela, we visited the community center which she and the community built in a very poor barrio. This is a barrio where crime and hopelessness were endemic. But the youth programs and other activities have transformed the community. We were entertained by an incredible singing, drumming, quatro (small guitar), and dancing performance. Kids from 12 to 20, who would otherwise have been doing who knows what, are actively involved in the center and each age group teaches those younger. I was especially impressed with the comfortable and respectful interaction between the boys and the girls. These kids are going to grow up to be good human beings – and we're not just talking a handful here, there were at least 30-40 of them taking part.

And finally we met with a college age woman from the Bolivarian Youth in the small town of Monte Carmelo. She told us that there are 56,000 like her in the Bolivarian Youth. She reminded me very much of the Sandinista Youth of the 1980s who were on fire intellectually and emotionally. She sees herself and her fellow Bolivarian Youth as the guarantors of the Bolivarian revolution and I believe her. It will be important for the VSN to bring people like her to the United States to meet with their peers in US universities and working class communities.

I knew before I went on this third trip to Venezuela that everything I read about Venezuela is not just wrong but a deliberate lie aimed at restoring US hegemony to what the elites have considered since the time of James Monroe to be "our backyard." The Venezuela reality is so much different and provides so much hope to the world that we who have seen it and who understand the nature of our own government, are obligated morally to expose and oppose our government's efforts to crush the Venezuelan experiment and to do everything we can to support it.

August 21, 2008

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