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Chávez: 'Venezuela will take socialist path'

Published Jan 26, 2007 9:41 PM

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez first declared he was a socialist during a news conference at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January of 2005, his announcement initiated a political chain reaction both in his country and internationally. The possibility of constructing and struggling for socialism became the focus of discussion for progressives and the excluded masses, particularly in Latin America, who lived in dire misery, victims of the U.S.-led neoliberal onslaught.

In Venezuela, health and education programs called misiones, or missions, established with the organizational help of socialist Cuba, have helped counteract capitalist propaganda aimed at demonizing socialism in general and that island nation in particular. The poorest sectors of the population, who had no access to education and health services before the Chávez government, now can easily discard anti-socialist propaganda. They no longer consider the system that has provided them with health care and literacy to be the evil that the imperialists wish to portray.

Since that January 2005, Chávez has said not only that he has become a socialist, but that the course of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution should lead away from capitalism and towards the development of a socialist society. When more than 67 percent of Venezuela’s voting population reelected him last Dec. 3, he saw it as a mandate to take the path toward socialism.

But Chávez knows socialism cannot be built by decree. He has instead proposed the “National Project Simón Bolívar 2007-2021,” a new phase of the Bolivarian Revolution that will take the path of trying to establish a socialist republic. The project is a comprehensive plan, sort of a “revolution within the revolution,” sorely needed if the proposed path is to succeed.

The National Project includes a change of the government cabinet;a constitutional reform; enabling laws that strengthen the executive; the formation of a single party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV); and the nationalization of important sectors of the economy.

As progressive as all the missions are, they do not change the nature of the capitalist state. They are simply reforms that improve people’s lives. The vast majority of the wealth and means of production are still in private hands. The opposition to Chávez, led by the oligarchy, with its racist, offensive and destabilizing media, along with the church hierarchy, are all aligned to U.S. corporate interests. Even though this opposition is weaker now, it remains a threat to the people.

The socialized and private systems operate side by side now. In health care, for example, the Barrio Adentro missions exist alongside private hospitals. In fact, the revolution developed the missions because the old medical system refused to offer free, quality health care in poor neighborhoods.

On Jan. 8, Chávez inaugurated a new cabinet. Out of 27 ministries, two were brand-new and 15 were to be headed by newly appointed ministers. Jose Vicente Rangel, who had been the vice president for eight years, was replaced and then thanked warmly by Chávez for his service. The new vice president isJorge Rodríguez.

The replacements represent not just a change of ministers but a change in job description and direction. Even the names have been changed, so that the Ministry of Defense will now be called the People’s Power of Defense, and similarly with other ministries. On inauguration day, Chávez told the new ministers they should “go to the streets, to the countryside” and “to go unannounced where a project is being developed, everywhere, at any time” in order to make sure that what was planned was actually taking place.

The idea is to battle corruption and inefficiency. He told them that from Thursdays through Sundays they will have to visit different parts of the country, and on Mondays he should receive a summary of those visits from the vice president.

In his most recent “Aló Presidente” program, on Jan. 21, Chávez spoke with Vice President Rodriguez, who was in the state of Delta Amacuro meeting with 275 Communal Councils and listening to the people’s worries and complaints there.

Constitutional reform, enabling laws and nationalizations

Chávez said that to carry on this new phase of the revolution, the 1999 Constitution would have to be reformed. In spite of the Constitution’s very progressive nature, it still maintains remnants of the neoliberal Fourth Republic. For example, in the current Constitution are a set of capitalist commerce laws that prevent progressive, people-first programs and trade relations from being put into effect.

Chávez said: “That has to be thrown in the garbage and make way for a trade system for 21st century socialism. For example, all that was privatized must be nationalized. Let us recover the social ownership of the strategic means of production. ... The National Telephone Company, CANTV, let it be nationalized!”

The nationalizations, part and parcel of the New Enabling Laws (Leyes Habilitantes) that Chávez requested from the National Assembly (NA) and that are currently being discussed there, cover several sectors.

In telecommunications, Chávez wants to nationalize CANTV, where the U.S. giant Verizon holds 28.5 percent of the shares. CANTV is the only Venezuelan firm traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Venezuela intends to nationalize all power companies, including Electricidad de Caracas, which is owned by the Arlington, Va.-based AES Corp.

Two other sectors involved are the crude oil field in Orinoco Province, where U.S. companies holdarespectable share,and the mighty Central Bank that up to now has been an autonomous entity. With regard to the bank, Chávez revealed that it had put most of Venezuela’s international reserves “in North American banks, and these in turn would lend us that money. They would pay 3 percent interest, and lend it to us at 8 percent and 10 percent interest. All the time it was like that, and nobody here knew it, only the elite who knew about business. ... The Bank of Venezuela cannot be autonomous.”

Proposal for unified socialist party

Stating that a single party is necessary to lead the country towards the changes needed, Chávez proposed that all the parties that have backed the revolution should unite in one party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). “Not an alphabet soup,” he said. There are upwards of 20 parties supporting the revolution, including the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), the Homeland for All (PPT) and the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), Chávez’s electoral party. Representatives of these parties have been participating in Chávez’s government. For example, current Vice President Jorge Rodríguez is from the PCV.

This proposal is being discussed within all the parties. The PCV, for example, will hold its congress at the beginning of March to discuss the affiliation, since it would mean the dissolution of a party that has been in existence for more than 75 years. To that effect, the PCV had an interesting statement on its website, dated Jan. 22:

“Carlos Aquino, member of the Central Committee of the PCV, emphasized that the Communist Party is not an end in itself, because for the Marxists the revolutionary party is the means the working class can use for the taking of power, the revolution and the construction of socialism.

“To that matter he said: ‘For the Communist, the abbreviation is not something that stifles us, undoubtedly we have a deep attachment and feeling of identification with that abbreviation [PCV] that for almost 76 years has been close to the struggles of the Venezuelan people, but it is not something that stifles or determines our participation in the formation of greater unity, one that contributes to the construction of socialism.”

Chávez’s proposal for the PSUV is still in the works in terms of its detailed construction. But it is clear that the plan calls for the full participation of the masses. In his speech he stated, “I have been working a great deal on the model, how this united party is going to be formed: from the bases, elections from the bases! Nobody, nobody, will be a director or in command unless chosen from the bases.”

When he refers to the bases, the masses, he is referring to the Communal Councils. These are neighborhood forms of organization that are meant to exercise People’s Power from below. The Councils are elected by the Citizens’ Assemblies, organizations of people living in a particular neighborhood who meet regularly to discuss and plan around the issues that involve their community.

Next: More on nationalization, the Five Motors of the Bolivarian Revolution, presidential elections for an indefinite term, international relations and the U.S. reaction.