Union Chapel, Islington 2004-6-17
Dave Raby: All right, thank you, well I'll be as quick as I can. Jorge has already said quite a lot of what I wanted to say, and other people too, but I think it's very important that people understand what is going on in Venezuela, and why it is so important to defend the Venezuelan process, to defend the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and build solidarity with it.
Yes, in Venezuela there is a literacy mission, Misión Robinson, which has already brought literacy to 1.2 million adult Venezuelans and they hope soon to finish the process and to provide literacy for the remaining four or five hundred thousand that still have to learn to read and write.
Secondly there is the Ribas Mission which is for those Venezuelans who had basic education, primary education, but had not been able, largely for economic reasons, to attend secondary school. And to incorporate them, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans - poor Venezuelans - into secondary education. Already that has brought secondary education to some three hundred thousand Venezuelans in that situation. And there's the higher education campaign, the Sucre Mission, which Jorge also mentioned.
Then there is the Barrio Adentro Mission, "Into the neighbourhoods", which is the medical mission, in which, yes, there are more than five thousand Cuban doctors, because Venezuelan doctors didn't want to participate. They've already established more than 11,000 neighbourhood clinics in poor neighbourhoods of Caracas and other cities, and in poor rural neighbourhoods in the mountains, and plains and jungles of the interior.
There is the Bolivarian Schools program, which began before these other missions got going, which began more than four years ago to incorporate poor children from the slums into basic education.
There are housing programs. There are two programs in which the military and civilian technicians provide housing. But this is not just a program of building council houses, as we would consider it, for the poor. The military and civilian technicians go into neighbourhoods, they consult with the people, and the poor communities themselves decide what kind of housing they want, and they participate in the design and in the building of these houses. And when it's finished, they own the houses. They can't sell them, so they can't make a private profit from this, but they, the people who are housed in these communities, own the houses.
There's a mission called Misión Identidad, the Identity Mission, because millions of poor Venezuelans were excluded from any kind of social program because they didn't have identity cards. They didn't exist as far as the state was concerned. This includes, by the way, two or three million Colombian immigrants in Venezuela who'd come there because of the petroleum boom in previous times and who didn't obviously have any rights in Venezuela. They are now being incorporated in an accelerated program to get them enrolled and to give them Venezuelan citizenship.
All of this of course is also fundamental in relation to the political process and this referendum we've been talking about, because these are the people, obviously in the vast majority, who are likely to vote for Chávez and to vote for the revolution. Many of them previously would go out on demonstrations for Chávez, they'd go out and shout and show how much they loved Chávez and the revolutionary process, but they couldn't vote. Now they are being enrolled so that they can vote and this is crucial for the coming referendum.
Yes I'm confident; yes of course the opposition will not win the referendum. This is quite clear. In spite of all the fraud and so on, the 2.4-2.5 million signatures that the opposition collected - with fraud, but which they collected more or less now - to demand the referendum, is the size of their total electorate. That's what they've obtained in previous elections. Chávez has obtained 3.7-3.8 million votes in previous elections and I'm sure that this time Chávez will obtain at least that many votes.
So that in itself is not the threat, but as Jorge was saying, that's only part of the ongoing campaign of harassment, of false propaganda, of destabilisation by the Venezuelan opposition, by the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, of course with the direct encouragement and support of Washington and Miami, and also, by the way, of the fascist government of Uribe next door in Colombia. And this obviously is the danger.
They failed in the coup, they failed in the strike, the sabotage they organised against the Chávez government, but they will organise any possible kind of destabilisation and terrorism to try to stop this process. And that's what must not be allowed to happen.
Now briefly what I want to explain, to try to explain now is how this came about, because I think this is what very few people in this country, or indeed anywhere, understand. All of a sudden, apparently out of nowhere, we have for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, for the first time since supposedly the end of history, we have a popular revolutionary government which is doing things which have not been seen for more than twenty years in Latin America, since the early years of the Sandinista revolution.
We have a government which is seriously trying to construct an alternative to neo-liberal globalisation, the current form of capitalism and imperialism. How did this come about? Because it wasn't a guerrilla revolution, it wasn't a Communist or Socialist party or coalition, it was Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Movement. What is that?
Well now, many people distrusted Chávez because he was a military man, or had been a military man. Many people distrusted the way that he mobilised the people by his extraordinarily successful rhetoric, by the direct communication he generated with the poor people in Venezuela. They said he was a populist. Well now I think here it is necessary to look more closely at where this man came from, where this movement came from.
In the first place, Venezuela was supposedly a model democracy for forty years before Chávez was elected in '98. They had pluralist elections. However, there was enormous corruption. Secondly the political system was organised in such a way as to exclude any real alternative to the two dominant parties. Thirdly, of course, from the financial crisis of the early 1980s onwards it was going downhill.
In 1989 this reached crisis-point when Carlos Andres Perez, who had been a previous President in the 1970s when he'd supposedly nationalised the oil, and who was associated with Accion Democratica, a sort of social-democratic party. He campaigned for the presidency, and won, promising he would resolve the crisis by fighting neo-liberalism. And within a fortnight of being inaugurated he did precisely the opposite and introduced a deflationary package which cut social benefits, which savagely reduced the relative wealth of the poor, which doubled the price of fuel and greatly increased, for instance, bus fares.
The result was enormous riots, food riots, by the poor in Caracas and in other cites around the country. What did this social-democrat President do? He sent in the military to repress the people and in a few days - well officially they said in total three hundred and sixty-seven people were killed - thousands of people were massacred - yes.
Now from that point on the system was in total crisis and what happened was that already within the military, Hugo Chávez, who was by that time a Lieutenant Colonel and came from a humble background, had already begun to organise several years previously a revolutionary movement clandestinely within the armed forces. And not only this, Chávez and his movement didn't just exist within the military, they were in close contact with all sectors of the civilian left in Venezuela. And for instance there was something called La Causa R, the Radical Cause, which is a very interesting movement with a philosophy very similar to what the anti-globalisation movement espouses, to fight against Capitalism on a revolutionary basis, but on the basis of democracy, and on the basis of struggle from below. And Chávez was very sympathetic to that movement.
Now in February '92, three years after the tremendous repression, the so-called Caracazo - the massacre - Chávez and many of his fellow officers, who had refused to participate in that massacre, had refused to turn their arms against the people, they mounted what was described as a coup but it was an attempt at a military and civilian revolutionary uprising. It failed, Chávez was arrested, but he was immediately the most popular man in Venezuela. And from that point onwards what happened is that Chávez serves two years in jail, but he's released, he's amnestied - he and his comrades - because of popular demand.
And that's basis of his triumph in the elections of '98 and for everything which has happened since. And then what this means is that the Venezuelan state, the old corrupt pseudo-democracy, which is so similar to the kind of democracy that Washington and Whitehall tried to sell us in so many countries, not just in Latin America, that pseudo-democracy was totally discredited and what the people voted for time and again in the elections and referenda that Chávez has held is for true democracy, to reclaim the concept of democracy and to say, "All right, yes, you in Washington, you in Europe, you say that revolution is no longer on the cards, it has to be democratic. Well we will be democratic, and you'll see what democracy really means!"
And in the coup two years ago, what happened? Well when Carmona and the reactionary junta took power, yes the people came down into the streets, yes the people came down and they waved this book, the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, saying "We want Chávez, we want our constitution!" Right? This constitution, by the way, which says that the people are sovereign. In this country, we talk about the sovereign, it means the Queen! In Venezuela, the sovereign means the People. It says "El Soberano", it means the people, the sovereign is the people.
Now, the people came down into the streets, yes. The other thing to understand, and that's why it's a revolutionary process, is that a large part of the military were with the people in this. And it's vital to understand that what the Venezuelan military, not all of them of course, but what fortunately most of them have done is to take seriously their identity as "the people in uniform". And on the 13th, the 14th of April 2002, it was officers like General Garcia Carneiro , in command of the Caracas military region, and Raul Baduel, in command of the paratroop regiment in Maracay on the west of Caracas, the Presidential Guard in the Palace, in Miraflores, who issued an ultimatum to the coup-mongers and said, "You bring back Chávez within twenty-four hours, or we will rebel."
And this is the most extraordinary development. Whereas for thirty or forty years after the Cuban revolution, people were taking up arms, struggling in vain in the mountains - as they're still doing in Colombia - to try to make revolution, what they decided in Venezuela was: if you can't make revolution against the military then make it within the military and convert the military into part of revolutionary popular movement. And that's why we have the situation that we have, and this is an extraordinarily positive development and that's why we have to support this movement. Viva Chávez! Viva Venezuela! Viva la Revolucion Bolivariana!
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