Caracas, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez delivered a brief, for him, 90-minute speech on January 27 to about 18,000 of the delegates gathered here for the Sixth World Social Forum. He referred to George W. Bush as “Mr. Danger” and to Cindy Sheehan, who was seated near him, as “Mrs. Hope.” The other 100,000 delegates from around the world found other venues.
One that struck me as more indicative of what is happening in Venezuela and its Bolivarian Revolution than any political speech might provide was at a Mission School. Teachers from Cuba were key to the establishment of a literacy campaign in poor neighborhoods throughout this country, and these are now producing their own teachers.
Venezuelan leaders, deeply committed to the development of their own rendering of a socialist economy, one free of the exploitation of Latin America’s resources and labor and the flooding of its markets with cheaper produce, describe three grave threats to their revolutionary process.
The first of these is direct military intervention by the United States, particularly from military bases strategically placed in Northern Colombia. The American presence there, ostensibly in support of eradication of drugs, is located on the Colombian frontier with Venezuela and quite close to the country’s oil production facilities around Lake Maricaibo.
The second threat they describe is assassination of President Chavez. As early as the reign of dictator Fulgencio Batista, the American Ambassador Arthur Gardner advised President Eisenhower that this young Fidel Castro was a danger and should be assassinated -- this, of course, even before the success of the Cuban revolution on January 1, 1959. The determination and absence of regard for life in the thousands of attempts on Castro’s life is perhaps best illustrated by the failed plan to blow up an auditorium in Panama while Castro was addressing a large gathering of students.
Forewarned by this CIA history, the people of Venezuela know well that their revolution remains vulnerable within the country. Officers with whom I have spoken say they serve the president, but loyalties are known to be divided and the chaos following an assassination would invite intervention. We lived in the mountains during the earlier dictatorships, say some older men. We don’t want war but we would go fight from there again.
The third and worst danger to the revolution they openly describe is that President Chavez, in power, fails to prove out; or to be able to control the vast capitalist bureaucracy in place, one that can interfere with the sort of progress one witnesses in the Mission schools.
Except for their demonstrated enthusiasm for the Forum slogan “another world is possible,” delegates in such huge numbers are hardly of one mind. On January 27, as indigenous people from all over South America demonstrated in front of a statue of Simon Bolivar, the revered 19th Century Liberator of these people from Spanish rule, in the Plaza that bears his name, heated arguments erupted between Brazilians and Venezuelans regarding the change in direction Latin America should take.
All was harmonious, energetic, and wonderful for the Global Exchange delegation of 200 Americans, visiting one of the barrio mission schools, where initially illiterate students of accelerated programs, some now with university degrees, gathered to describe their experience.
One speaker said she was pleased to be graduating from the same school as her grandchildren. Another described education in Venezuela in the past as being only exclusively available in private schools, with education one of the many privileges of the rich. In those years the government distributed everyone else a book and suggested each recipient study on her or his own. Others said they are willing to die for this revolution and for the Cuban missionaries who brought them this opportunity because it has shown them the way the world and their lives really should be.
The opposition, denied power, privilege and an inexhaustible source of cheap labor, takes none of this lying down. Their recall effort against President Chavez a failure, they do their best in media they control to condemn the Mission Schools and education of the poor as a lie. A flow of cash is pipelined to them from the Bush administration, just like the longstanding flow to opponents of Castro in Cuba. Senator Connie Mack of Florida has even introduced legislation for US government funding of the Venezuelan opposition.
Clearly US agents on the ground walk here with blinders on. Change has come, and while continuity of that possible new world is threatened, a visit to a Mission School would disabuse them of their narrow view of the future here.
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