Report from Delegation to Venezuela

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The US corporate press is continually full of anti-Chavista propaganda, just as it was against Qaddaffi. One purpose of this propaganda is drive a wall between the solidarity of the US people with Venezuela. In this they have in a large part succeeded.
We must recognize that the US cannot invade a country without neutralizing the solidarity of US people. e.g., the Washington Post wrote before the election:
“The question is not whether the election will be free and fair, it’s already been established it won’t be, What’s unclear is whether Mr. Maduro will resort to outright fraud or violence to prevent an opposition victory.”
Hillary Clinton’s speech on the Venezuela election shows the degree of US interference. She completely backed the right wing neoliberal opposition, who she cynically equated with the defenders of democracy, freedom, human rights, economic progress. There was no pretense of respecting the actual will of the Venezuelan people.
It was either vote the way the US rulers want you to vote, or you are not a free or democratic country.
Who won the election? The rulers of the US stole this election from the Venezuelan people. The victor in the Venezuelan elections was the US Empire. It was their covert election campaign that won.
They succeeded in turning the people against the Maduro government, in part because the PSUV did not take effective steps in response to the US economic war.
The Chavista government was the only force involved that respected the electoral process and the electoral results. The opposition had refused beforehand to commit to respecting the electoral result.
The CNE, the National Electoral Council, a Chavista creation, presented a model electoral system and a transparent electoral process.
Were the elections free and fair? No, the owners of the US manipulated the election through their economic and media war. The US has many ways to manipulate election results.
Just think here in Chicago: banks cut city bond credit rating to near junk status, shortly after the mayoral election.The courts indicted Barbara Byrd-Bennett for bribery and corruption,  the head of the Chicago Board of Ed shortly after the election, the city sat on releasing the video of this police shooting of  Laquan McDonald until after the election.
If these facts were not held secret until after the election, Rahm would have lost.
The US can manipulate elections in weaker countries like Venezuela in much the same way.
The US still declares Venezuela a threat to US national security. Through the NED, IRI, NDI, it intervened in Venezuelan internal affairs by funneling money to the opposition.
Through the US website Dolar Today and the smuggling operations it coordinates with ally in Colombia, it manipulates the Venezuelan currency.
Through the economic war it  instituted, and through its media war of constant US corporate media disinformation against the Maduro government, which it made sure to be echoed inside Venezuela, it made sure the Venezuelan elections were not free and fair.
The US economic war has created an inflation rate of at least 160%, widespread shortages of consumer goods, contraction in the economy, with negative economic growth of -5% to -10%, low oil prices, from $140 to $37, non functional price controls and a nonfunctional exchange rate.
This is in a country that is not socialist but capitalist.
Vote was 112-55 with even the 3 indigenous people delegates going with the opposition.
Opposition wants to eliminate the labor law, the housing mission, all social missions, get rid of cooperatives,  throw out Maduro, close TeleSur, National Assembly TV station, privatize nationalized companies, cut pensions, return land to big landowners, purge state institutions.
The vote can be seen as a vote to punish the PSUV for not responding effectively to the economic war. But we should keep in mind that the opposition victory was fundamentally based on 2 million Chavista voters not bothering to vote.
The victory of the MUD was not based on winning over many former Chavista voters.
And while the Opposition won  2/3rds of the seats in the National Assembly, it won about 56% of the vote  compared to 41% for the PSUV. The PSUV also remains the strongest, largest party.
And those I did talk to, who voted for the opposition, their vote was not a vote for the program of the opposition, it was discontent over Maduro’s handling of the economy and corruption.
It was the PSUV, not the Chavista program and the gains of they have made that suffered a rejection in the elections.
This was no vote against free university education, national programs to raise the educational level of the people,  free health care, the housing program for 900,000 families, the very progressive labor laws,  the model pension system and other social programs.
It was no vote against the people being organized at the base in community councils, communes, cooperatives, land committees, unions.
The high price and scarcity of basic foods and goods, for the long lines lay behind the PSUV defeat.  The people were tired of shortages, tired of standing in lines, some said 15 hours a week, for toilet papers, flour, sugar, rice, beans.
The PSUV under Maduro was able to build and distribute 900,000 homes to the poorer classes, able to provide free computers, tablets and cell phones to students, and cars to taxi cooperatives. But it showed itself unable to counter the economic war by the oligarchies of the US and Venezuela to end food shortages and long lines.
What was the problem with the PSUV?
Fall in the price of oil in an economy long based on oil.
Prices have doubled in a year.
Chavistas say many PSUV National Assembly members and governors were corrupt. They said the PSUV is a top-down party, where the leadership often picks their candidates for electoral positions.
They explain Maduro is not to blame, this has been a problem since the origin of the party.
They explain the leadership is now too often simply deaf in relation to the base. It was not listening to the anger and frustration people felt about the shortages and long lines.
Right before the election our delegation was told by government reps that the PSUV would actually win more seats in the National Assembly.
But another, who had predicted a PSUV defeat said “The PSUV leaders were incapable of hearing and seeing what was happening as being the combination of the economic war and their lack of decision to combat it.”
It is not so much that the PSUV is corrupt, but that the state apparatus, the government bureaucracies that are corrupt.
Many employees were left overs from the pre-Chavez era. Posts often went to non-Chavista, or to opposition or others who joined the PSUV simply to get ahead, for personal gain.
There was widespread impunity for corruption, both in government and opposition business sabotage.
Government bureaucracies were not combated by building popular power, the community councils, communes, etc.
I should add that their meaning of corruption is much broader than here. Buying politicians here, banks betting against  their own investments, jacking up the price of medicines to make a buck, these types of activities are perfectly legal here, part of the “free market system” not corruption.
Another problem has been corruption in the armed forces and police, which were both involved in the hoarding and reselling at high prices of the imported basic necessities on the black market and in Colombia.
This widespread corruption is widely known among the population. And I didn’t find anyone who said the PSUV would take decisive action against it or against the economic war after the election.
The PSUV did not educate and mobilize the people to combat the black market or the widespread hoarding, stealing and reselling of subsidized basic goods. This was in part because government functionaries, along with the National Guard and police were often complicit.
The PSUV also did not devote energy to political-moral- socialist education and values. We cannot build a socialist society without advocating for new moral values in the people, for the value of working for the collective, not just yourself, for personal gain.
And providing virtually free homes, health care and education to the population does not by itself raise political consciousness.
From talking to Chavistas, they all tend to think the gov will not resolve the economic problems or corruption. They can’t really name someone else besides Maduro who they think could. I think that is a more serious criticism than anything the opposition and MUD opposition say.
There has been an ineffective government response to the economic war.  The government did very little to resolve the problem of shortages  and high prices. It did very little to punish abuses in the black market, in hoarding, in buying and reselling subsidized food.
It has not even done some simple things such as printing higher denomination Bolivars. The largest Bolivar bill there is 100 Bolivars, which is about 15 cents on the black market.
Top leaders were often rotated around in top posts, so that new faces did not emerge, and those in top positions were not there long enough to fully implement policies.
It is said 1/3 of subsidized products end up on the Colombia side of the border
People were sick of waiting in lines.  Lines were basically limited to the poor areas, with very few lines in middle class areas. This was a concerted campaign to neutralize the pro-Chavista vote.
There was widespread waste. Over $300B in government investment in social programs is not accounted for.  Some of this is theft, some is in private accounts overseas, some wasted on failed cooperative programs.
For instance, 60,000 cooperatives were formed under President Chavez, only  1%  are functional. Many coops were formed just to get money from the government.
The PSUV increasingly geared its work towards winning elections, becoming an electoral machine. Thus, any claim to be creating community councils and peoples communes as an alternative government system, a dual power, a new socialist state, became sidelined.
There was little focus on generating national production, industrialization, agricultural self-sufficiency, instead of relying on imports based on oil wealth. Almost all food must still be imported, over 15 years after Chavez became president.
There was inadequate follow-through on social programs, on national production programs, on raising political level of the PSUV.
The government had nationalized a number of companies, but these nationalized ones still remained poorly managed and unproductive.
The government did not nationalize Polar, which controlled 70% of food and personal item distribution.  Polar has 100-150,000 employees, who have very good benefits.
A person could make more reselling subsidized food than he could in a regular job.
Problems MUD faces:
The problem the MUD now faces is that the PSUV remains the largest, most organized and powerful party.
The MUD is a quite divided coalition, with groups and individuals ready to fight over the spoils.
The MUD also faces the problem that it is not popular, its program is not popular  – privatization, the ending of subsidies and elimination of the Bolivarian social missions.
Those who voted for it will not sit still for the dismantling of the Chavista social programs.
The people are not undefeated.
They are fairly well organized, and are now worried and angry by what they have heard of opposition plans to dismantle hard-fought gains.
And I am sure, with the great honor with which Hugo Chavez is held by the person in the street, they will not sit back and betray everything he stood for and fought for while the Opposition seeks to take it away.
I would not be surprised that any direct attack on the gains by the Opposition would be met with a mass mobilization in protest.
PSUV Dismantles Social Missions around food, has a neoliberal food program, just like MUD:
People with access to dollars are doing quite well, the working class suffers.
Maduro blames the opposition for the economic war and does not change his policies.
For a poor person, the vote was not about an anti-imperialist vs a neocolonial government, but about ending the lines and shortages, like having to walk with a stone in your shoe and needing to stop everything to get help taking it out.
A government official can allocate some dollars to a company to import food or raw materials for 6-12 bolivars to the dollar. Get a kick back, or just pay the company for a few of those dollars on the side, then resell the dollars on the black market for 850 to a dollar.
All the people I have talked to say the National Guard, which controls the borders in and out, and which is in posts at all levels of government, is heavily involved in the selling of goods at the border. The closing of the border hasn’t changed much, because they are the ones enforcing its closing.
I was told at the Colombia border 4 Colombia pesos is 1 bolivar. In Bogota 533 pesos is one bolivar.  I buy 7 bolivars at the border, take them to bogota, exchange them for pesos, about 3700 pesos.  I can take 3350 pesos and exchange it for $1, then go to Caracas, exchange that on the black market, and now my  7 bolivars has become 850 bolivars.
The official exchange rate is 200 B to the dollar. But if you import food staples, personal products like soap, toilet paper,  it is 6.5 to the dollar. On the black market it is 850 B to the dollar, basically set and manipulated by a US website in Miami.
I was told you pay the equivalent of 18 B to import soap,  sell it at 300-400 B at the official rate.  But you can sell it for 2000B on the black market.
Comparing prices of food and some other goods there with the price here, the prices I saw in private produce markets, at McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, an unregulated or floated B would be about 150-250B to a dollar.
It became vastly more profitable to receive dollars to import food, doctor their books about their imports, then sell these dollars on the black market.
70% of the food is produced-distributed by the private sector
Special K cereal box 35 cents
McDonalds quarter pounder, with fries and drink, $1.20 cents
Whopper with cheese is $1.25
Subway 6” Chicken Teriyaki is  $1.10
1 lb of corn flour is 8B in Mercal, You can resell it for 225B
a can of evaporated Carnation milk is 60 cents,
4 little yogurt pack is 40 cents,
Fancy whole wheat bread is 80 cents a loaf, regular whole wheat is 45 cents, The minimum wage is $12 a month.
So, if you are some business man or government official, or any person with with access to dollars, you can live pretty good here. The food system for people who can change dollars is quite good.
The food system for the poor is cue in line to buy subsidized food you can afford, and expect to find there isn’t any.
What this system really is is a neoliberal food policy instituted by the Chavista gov, which it refuses to modify. My dollar buys maybe 5-6 times as much, so I am 5 times as rich as I am in Chicago. If you are poor, with no access to dollars, you are poorer and poorer.
The Chavista government’s social mission of subsidizing food and essential goods for the working class became undone. The goods often ended up resold at much higher prices in the black market, which low income people could not afford.
I talked to leaders of a community council in Lara and asked these women how many hours a week they spend in lines. 15 hours. And one said she hasn’t found flour in a month.
These women told me that of the price controlled food they get at their Mercal, per family, per month is:
1 chicken
1 kilo rice
1 kilo milk
1 kilo corn flour
No sugar, no coffee, no cooking oil
In  effect, the Maduro government has overseen the dismantling of the food social missions.
Maduro could have cut subsidies to food importing companies, subsidies which took the form of selling them dollars at 6.5 B to the dollar, rather than dollars at 200B to the dollar.
He could have eliminated the Mercals, and given the food subsidy money to working people as a debit card with enough money to buy food in private markets at private market prices.
Whatever the cost of implementing this, this was a more urgent expenditure for the people than distributing basically free tablets, phones,  computers, cars, the million homes.
I was told by one PSUV member I was advocating a neoliberal program, but I said how the present program operates is a neoliberal program.
That would have eliminated bachequeros, the buying subsidized food and then reselling it at much higher black market prices.
The food that is particularly scarce are rice, beans, sugar, milk, flour, cooking oil. That is common, easily accessible food here.
Much of this food is available on the street, being resold at much higher prices.  This smuggled or stolen  imported food is sold openly on the street, as is the black market in dollars. This all goes on right in front of the police without any problem.
It would have eliminated this black market in food. It would have eliminated the hoarding and smuggling of food to Colombia.
It would have eliminated the black market in selling dollars at 850B to the dollar. That would have slashed the rate of inflation.
He could have raised the price of gas, so that it no longer cost a penny to fill up your gas tank.
(Gas is 2 ½ gallons for 1 B, and 800B is a dollar.) That would have eliminated the massive reselling of basically free Venezuela gas in Colombia.
Lessons:
You cannot build socialism using the bourgeois state. It cannot be reformed into a socialist state.
We need to get rid of the old state, like Venezuela did with its old constitution, and build a new one.
But as one diplomat told us, with pride, “we are changing things from within the system, we are not changing the system, as if it were a socialist revolution, like Cuba.” That they are trying to do this is the problem.
Another lesson is that
21st century socialism cannot be counterposed to what people like Steve Ellner and Michael Lebowitz, Marta Harnecker call “state socialism.” It cannot be pointed to as a more democratic model of socialism.
With all their talk about “21st Century Socialism” what you see in Venezuela is actually a capitalist not a socialist country.
And this 21st century socialism has the same problems as what led to the collapse of the USSR: a gov and party disconnected from the people, not listening, and a large and corrupt bureaucracy administering the state, inattention to moral and political education, providing few solutions to increasing economic problems.
This 21st Century socialism cannot be regarded as more democratic.
There is no democracy in Venezuela having this type of election where the US rulers can use economic war and media war to pressure the people into voting in a pro-US, neo-colonial National Assembly that does not represent their interests.
In sum,
We must remember that the Venezuelan people still have their own organizations. They are organized, educated and will probably fight to defend their gains.
And we must remember the great default of the US people: in response to the US economic and media war aimed at overthrowing a foreign government, we really did next to nothing.
We barely organized, barely protested, did not make a public issue of US interference.
Venezuela has been at the forefront of sweeping changes in Latin America. Its Bolivarian Revolution heralded in a transformative decade that propelled millions of Venezuelans out of poverty, and inspired other democratic revolutions throughout the continent. Today’s Latin America looks nothing like it did 15 years ago: tens of millions of citizens have unprecedented access to education, health care, and dignified housing.

The late president Hugo Chavez implemented many social programs that are very popular among the general population in Venezuela. This type of revolution would not be possible without the large volume of oil revenues that Venezuela had been receiving during Chavez’s rule. The government has attempted to use oil to influence international politics, as well as national politics by using oil revenues to provide essential products at below-market prices to those who are sympathetic to the Bolivarian Revolution. That had proven to be an effective tool when oil prices were high. When oil prices plummeted, however, this policy created a huge burden on the Venezuelan 3 government. This combined with the lack of strong leadership, which was previously provided by Chavez, created the huge social and political in which Venezuela currently is experiencing.
Venezuela is the target of a plot called “Operacion Tenazas” (Operation Pincers), in which Venezuela is being attacked from two sides simultaneously. From one side, Colombian paramilitaries have been making incursions into Venezuelan territory to create destabilization. They were most likely most likely hired by the opposition, and were responsible for killing 43 people during the violence that took place in early 2014. The 43 included mostly innocent civilians and some members of the government’s security forces who were trying to quell the violence. From the other side, Guyana has recently granted Exxon-Mobil exploration rights in a territory which is currently in dispute, and in which Guyana and Venezuela had agreed by treaty not to exploit any resources until such dispute was resolved. Despite all the destabilizing campaigns and the very deep crisis that they have produced, Jacobo Torres expressed optimism that the PSUV would win the elections the Bolivarian Revolution has greatly improved the standard of living of most Venezuelans and most Venezuelans still support the revolution.
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