Chavez: The Man in the Red Beret

Peter McLaren

The historical debates surrounding the legacy of Hugo Chavez have begun. Perhaps one day I will join these debates. But not now. Attacks on Chavez “the dictator” or Chavez the charismatic “opponent” of the United States will demand from the left a spirited defense. Perhaps I will join such an effort in the months and years ahead. But not now. In this brief space I want to speak about Hugo Chavez as a leader who inspired a generation to believe that an alternative to capitalism could be fashioned from a reinvention of the state by the popular majorities.


The popularity of Chavez had a world-historical reach and it would not be a mistake to analyze his charismatic leadership in the context of a personality cult like that of Fidel, Che, or Subcommandante Marcos, for instance. To do this is not to diminish the importance of his role as a figure that could galvanize millions on the left and animate their faith that a more humane alternative to capitalism was a possibility, once the battle against U.S. imperialism was won. Chavez, whose father was of Indian descent and his mother, of African descent, was often the object of racial derision by the Venezuela’s white ruling elite, who did not hide their racial separateness from the rest of the Venezuelan population, four-fifths of whom could be described as indigenous-mestizo-mulatto-African.  I remember one day, after a particularly long march down the streets of Caracas supporting President Chavez, I went from store-to-store in an attempt to purchase a popular Chavez doll as a souvenir.  But there was not a single doll to be found.  I was told that I could find one in Altamira, an affluent east Caracas neighborhood.  I was surprised. A fellow camarada laughed at my expression and told me that the white ruling elite – often referred to as “esqualidos” (a colloquialism for squalid people) – had plenty of Chavez dolls available in their upscale stores.  Referring to Chavez as “ese mono” (that monkey), they would tie the dolls to the bumpers of their cars and drag them through the streets.

Insinuating itself into our daily life as an ideology as much as a set of accumulation practices and processes of production, neoliberal capitalism pretends to the throne of democracy-building, but in reality it has hastened its demise. Capitalism wears a coquettish and self-effacing sheen of timelessness, inviolate consistency, and seamless immutability, but that sheen is not any more permanent than the lipstick on a mirror, or than the Barry Manilow hits played on vibraphone wafting through the shopping malls, or than one of Charles Bukowski’s famous beer farts. What makes capitalism seem indelible yet imitable is the fact that it makes certain people very rich, and these paragons of the capitalist class are those that the state media apparatuses parade in their garish media outlets – the movie stars, the corporate moguls, the trend-setters, the celebrities and the culture brokers. While news of celebrity cellulite shakes us awake with amphetamine alertness, Hollywood gossip barons, equipped with the most profound and galvanizing lucidity available, provide us commentary on which star has the best bikini body. At the same time, we remain emotionally drowsy to the pain and suffering of people who struggle and strain against falling household wealth, unemployment and lack of food and medical care. And we rarely cast our eyes south of the border.

Hugo Chavez raised the stakes for North Americans. He showed us that a President could be democratically elected many times and still direct the majority of his efforts at helping the poor and disenfranchised help themselves. He made us aware that the comfort we enjoyed in the United States was a direct result of the enforced dependency that the US created with Las Americas. He showed the world that the class struggle is no longer demarcated by men in boiler suits or railhead pants versus factory owners in top hats, continental cross ties and double-breasted vests. Or the sans-culottes versus the breech-garbed ruling class. Or financiers with capes and silver-tipped canes exploiting the labor power of frutiers, cobblers and copper miners lugging lunchpails of lost dreams. The struggle, as he would tell us in his weekly television show, Alo Presidente, is the transnational capitalist class against all those who depend upon wages for their labor. He showed us that we need cultures of contestation that are transnational in scope to end the exploitation of capitalism.

Chavez’s Bolivarian Circles (named after Simon Bolivar serve as watchdog groups modeled after Cuba’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and function as liaisons between the neighborhoods and the government as well as fomenting support for Chavez) were important in combating business leaders and dissident army generals whom, with U.S. support, were trying to overthrow the Chavez government. Members of the Bolivarian Circles would bang on hollow electricity poles to warn against mobilizations by the opposition and to rally supporters across the city’s working-class neighborhoods. They were an example of self-determination for sovereignty as evidenced by the Bolivarian declaration “Nuestra America: una Sola Patria” (Our America: one motherhood)  which rejects an ideological loyalty to “America” as an America defined by a capitalist laden value system that favors imperialism and exploitation for increased profit margins.  Chavez created an infrastructure for communal councils and for self-management in factories and cooperatives and for participation in social programs. This was an astonishing accomplishment because never before did the people living in the barrios have a real chance to participate in the government. For a leader to take the position of working from a preferential option of the poor and powerless and to be re-elected more times than any other leader in the western hemisphere (in the same amount of time) – and to survive a U.S.-supported coup in 2002 and oil strikes that crippled the economy- that is quite a feat. Even Jimmy Carter has praised the election process in Venezuela as among the fairest he has observed.

Chavez’s policies pointed towards the importance of ‘development from below’ which could be achieved through the democratization of the workplace by way of workers’ councils and a major shift of ownership of production, trade and credit in order to expand food production and basic necessities to the poor who inhabit the ‘internal market.’ Once President Chavez was able to control the oil industry, his government was able to reduce poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent.  Chavez helped turn Venezuela from being one of the most unequal countries in Latin America to (after Cuba) being the most equal in terms of income.

Capitalism works through a process of exchange-value, whereas Chavez was more interested in the process of communal exchange—that is, to cite but one example, exchanging oil for medical care in a program with Cuba in which Cuban doctors were brought into Venezuela and were set up in various barrios.  I remember once I was very ill with a fever off the charts and had to call a doctor, but before the doctor arrived I struggled in vain to pull  my Che t-shirt over my drenched body to express a sign of solidarity from this ailing gringo.  Chavez followed the principle of “buen vivir” which can be translated as “to live well.”  But this term, which has indigenous roots, is very different from the North American term, “the good life.” Buen Vivir requires that individuals in their various communities are in actual possession of their rights and are able to exercise their responsibilities in the context of a respect for diversity and in accordance with the rights of ecosystems.  It’s about social wealth—not material wealth.

I remember how much I enjoyed teaching at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, located near the Central University of Venezuela – part of Mission Sucre, which provides free higher education to the poor, regardless of academic qualification, prior education or nationality – housed in the ultra-delux offices of former PDVSA oil executives that Chavez had fired for their attempt to bring down the government.  College enrollment doubled under Chavez.  Student projects were insolubly linked to local community improvement. At a graduation ceremony in the early years of the university, Chavez famously said: “Capitalism is machista and to a large extent excludes women, that’s why, with the new socialism, girls, you can fly free.”

Chavez set up a structure to offer employment for the graduates of UBV through a Presidential Commission that enabled new graduates be placed around the country in development projects. The graduates would receive a scholarship that was slightly above the minimum wage. Some of these projects involved Mision Arbol (Tree Mission), recovering the environment damaged by capitalism such as the Guaire River.  When I was first invited to Venezuela by the government to help support the Bolivarian revolution, I remember speaking at the Central University of Venezuela.  The students who attend this university are mainly the children of the ruling elite. Not many were Chavistas, well, at least not when I spoke there. After I announced to the students present that I was a Chavista (Soy Chavista!), I was told later that some students in retaliation had ripped my portrait off of a mural student had created of critical theorists. Yet I was able to have very good conversations with some of the students there in the years that followed.

I was privileged to be a guest several times on Alo Presidente, once when sitting next to Ernesto Cardinal.  I listened to Ernesto wax eloquently about Chavez, and Chavez’s dream of bringing humanity together through a deep spiritual love.  I attended meetings of the misiones, social programs in health, education, work and housing, set up by Chavez when he came into office in 1999 to help the poor to become literate, to finish high school, to organize their communities and to get medical attention.

In 2005, when President Chavez offered residents of the Bronx a new type of program to heat homes, it was ridiculed as a cheap publicity stunt in the US media. Chavez was using the profits from his nation’s rich oil reserves to enact social spending programs, and was offering residents of the Bronx the same deal, which meant he would provide home heating oil to economically disadvantaged residents at a major discount—through Citgo—provided the savings that were made were reinvested into programs that benefitted the poor. Veteran Congressman José Serrano has since voiced his praise of Chavez for instituting this program in his district.

Although I met President Chavez half a dozen times, I only had one conversation with him. He thanked me for my work in critical pedagogy, and for my willingness to share some of my work with those in the Bolivarian revolution. But he reminded me that I have as much to learn from the people of Venezuela, and that I needed to maintain that attitude in my work. He turned out to be right.

Hugo Chavez Frias rode the Angel of History like a wild stallion across the fiery firmament of revolution, drawing back the curtain on imperialism’s ‘southern strategy,’ and advancing the cause of a twentieth century socialism. He was a solider, in essence, one with sufficient humanity to stare directly into the heart of capitalism and warn us that it pulsed with leakages of sequestered oil and that its ‘cap and trade’ compassion was market regulated. Hugo Chavez was crowned by history with a red beret and gave us pride to be warriors for social justice, marching towards a new future.

A Review of “The Socialist Alternative”

Ankit Sharma

Michael A Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, Monthly Review Press & Aakar Books, 2010

This book is part of Michael Lebowitz’s larger project of demonstrating the ever-existing necessity of a socialist transformation as the revolutionary resolution of class struggle in capitalism. It builds a theoretical foundation for such revolutionary praxis in the specific objectivity of the 21st century. Lebowitz’s previous book, Build it Now, captured and described the specificities of socialist praxis and possibilities in the Bolivarian experience of Venezuela. The Socialist Alternative can be seen as building a coherent model of an alternative by gathering and arranging the elements that are found scattered in that experience.

Like the previous one, this book too is a result of Lebowitz’s rigorous and critical engagement with the ‘socialist’ experiences/experiments of the 20th century. The author clearly critiques the stagist and statist conception of socialism that was based on an ‘uncritical’ takeover of the State and the subservience of the self-activities of the labouring classes to the purpose of strengthening the State. It was this statism that defined the socialist praxes of the 20th century.

Lebowitz also critiques the dwarfish (yet important) experiments of cooperatives and the Yugoslavian practice of workers’ self-management – where, apparently, we find an inversion of the top-bottom approach, and also a kind of workers’ control. Yet this managerial structure failed to develop a “solidarian society” that countered the segmentation and competition among workers, as the logics of commodity production and profiteering continued at the base of those experiments.

The socialist alternative that Lebowitz posits is a process – it is “the path to Human Development” constituted through self-organisational and self-emancipatory practices of the working class. The democratic, participatory and protagonistic activities would reconstitute our everyday lives in this process. “Through revolutionary practice in our communities, our workplaces, and in all our social institutions, we produce ourselves as other than the impoverished and crippled human beings that capitalism produces.” (22) After all, “revolutionary practice” is nothing but “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of the human activity or self-change”, as Marx defined it in one of his theses on Feuerbach. Thus, even though ownership over the means of production still remains critical for building socialism, social solidarity and active participation of every human being based upon “the elementary triangle” of social property, social production and satisfaction of social needs are central to Lebowitz’s socialist imagination. It is this centrality of solidarian revolutionary practice that emancipates socialism from its relegation to statism and productivistic technocracy. This is the vision of the “good society”, which put simply is an association where “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.


In Part I, The Socialist Triangle, Lebowitz begins with an analysis of the “wealth of people”, through which he arrives at the first side in the socialist triangle – the concept of social property. He locates the critical centrality of accumulated past labour (the accumulation of tools/instruments of labour and knowledge/skill) and the combination of labour in determining the level of productivity. The “free service of past labour” and the “free gift” of cooperation determine the social productive power. Further, it is the combination of labour that generates the social character of human labour, and thus constitutes even accumulated past labour as “social inheritance” or “social heritage”.

Class struggle in a sense is a contest over this social heritage – “to whom does it belong”? In fact, capitalism rests upon the alienation of social heritage, its mystification as capital and its institution as “an alien power opposed to [man], which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him” (Marx). This normalisation of expropriated social heritage and its mystification as capital is possible because of the wage-form of labour that defines capitalist production. Under this form a capitalist and worker seem to confront each other as equals and workers are projected as sellers of labour who are fully remunerated. Only when the sale of labour(-power) is differentiated from the expenditure of labour-power (labour) that we are able to understand the genesis of surplus value and thus, the nature of capitalist exploitation. Otherwise, in the mystified system, profits and productivity gains are contributed by capitalists and are results of capitalist investments, rather than the products of “the combination of living social labour and of past social labour.”

Social heritage can assert its full sociality only when this mystification is destroyed. Only when it comes under social ownership that it can serve humanity rather than individuals. Thus, is derived the first cornerstone of the elementary socialist triangle. However, the notion of social ownership, for Lebowitz, is not so given, rather it is grounded in the dynamic praxis of socialism – it implies a profound democracy from below that involves everybody in decision-making, who are affected by those decisions. Hence, it cannot be relegated to state ownership, as happened with the 20th century socialist ‘victories’ (or defeats). Also, limitation of ownership to decision-makers allows differential and privileged access to means of production on the basis of one’s location in the productive economy and thus perverts social ownership. Displacing capital by things does not destroy mystification – as its essential element, reification is still prevalent. What is important for socialism is to bring human beings to the centre of production and distribution, and to understand “the development of human capacity” as real wealth, the goal to which the “objective wealth” must become subservient. “This is the real wealth of people – rich human beings.”

Lebowitz differentiates the Marxist conception of human capacities from that of Human Development Reports, which are based on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach. The understanding of human development in HDRs is circumscribed within a liberal framework that seeks to integrate people on the margins into the so-called mainstream – to make the capitalist system more inclusive. It seeks to remove barriers in the broadening of opportunities (capabilities in this framework are equivalent to opportunities). It certainly questions neoliberal market fetishism, but it empowers the state to complement the market.

In the Marxist framework, on the other hand, the relationship between human development and self-activity or practice, and thus simultaneous changing of circumstances and human activity or self-change is central. “The Production of People” is the process of self-creation of man. From outside to inside the formal or direct production process, every labour process is a production of human capacity. This continuum is clearly visible when popular self-development is the goal. However, even when this goal is not preconceived, as in a bourgeois economy, where labour processes are abstracted from one another (as work from leisure, whereas in fact it is the latter that readies a worker for work), the struggle of workers against capital “transforms ‘circumstances and men,’ expanding their capabilities and making them fit to create a new world.”(51)

Of course, capitalism destroyed the barriers to human development that pre-capitalist societies posed and created the conditions for the development of the rich individuality. But capitalism in order to reproduce itself generates mystifications that cognitively impoverishes workers – “they distort the worker into a fragment of a man”, who is overwhelmed by the creative power of his own labour projected as an alien power, as the power of capital.

Lebowitz here shows how to read Capital to obtain Marx’s conception of socialism – “Read Capital with the purpose of identifying the inversions and distortions that produce truncated human beings in capitalism and we can get a sense of Marx’s idea of what is ‘peculiar to and characteristic of’ production in that ‘inverse situation,’ socialism.” Most importantly, we must not be trapped by capital’s definition of production, since it is here that alienation, distortions, mystifications and fetishism are generated. It is important to reestablish human beings as both the subject and object of production, where “specific use-values … are mere moment in a process of producing human beings, the real result of social production.”(59) It is social production in this sense that is identified as the second element of the socialist triangle. In this production process, the “systematic and hierarchic divisions of labour” that create caste-like segmentations do not have any place. And, “every aspect of production must be a site for the collective decision making and variety of activity that develops human capacities and builds solidarity among the particular associated producers.”(60) It is in this light, Lebowitz critiques the experiments in “real socialism” and foregrounds the Solidarian Society – a new social form based on “protagonism and conscious cooperation by producers”.

Capitalism is based on separation and not association – where “the community of human beings is at its core a relationship of separate property owners”(66) and human development is a result of the competition of self-interests in the market. While Marx considered the experience of cooperatives in the nineteenth century important, but he viewed them as new form still reproducing “all the defects of the existing system” – not going beyond profit-seeking and competition, beyond market and self-interest. The cooperatives must themselves cooperate and become the basis for a “harmonious system of associated labour” where “many different forms of labour-power” are expended “in full self-awareness as one single social labour force.” Lebowitz, rereading Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, finds the continuation of exchange relations (and thus of bourgeois right) as the chief defect of socialism. It is a defect related to the relation of distribution, which conserves inequality (on the basis of relative contributions or work). Each producer, like in capitalism, continues to be the “owners of the personal condition of production, of labour-power” and he has self-interest in maximising his income. The Yugoslav model that the chapter discusses illustrates the problems of the self-managed enterprises that “functioned in the market and were driven by one thing – self-interest. In every enterprise, the goal was to maximise income per member of the individual enterprise.”(74)

Lebowitz considers self-interest as “an infection in socialism”. It “undermines the development of socialism as an organic system”. If this infection is not fought against, it will infect “all sides of the socialist triangle”. Enterprises in order to be profit-maximisers will rely increasingly upon experts and expertise (as happened in the case of Yugoslavia), thus diluting workers management. Labour-power as property would perpetuate inequality leading to a break in solidarity. Resultant differential possession or differential development of capacities combined with self-interest would destroy the common ownership of the means of production. It is only by a conscious and continuous building of the solidarian society, thus fighting self-interest, that socialism as an organic system can emerge. In this new society, “man’s need has become a human need”, there is “communal activity and communal enjoyment”, and “the other person as a person has become for him a need – the extent to which he in his individual existence is at the same time a social being”. Further, “there is an exchange not of exchange values but of ‘activities, determined by communal needs and communal purposes’.”(79)


The second part of the book deals with “the becoming of socialism as an organic system.”(85) Lebowitz considers it important to differentiate between the Being and Becoming of an Organic System – historically viewed a social system grows out of the old system, whose traces persist as defects in the new system, while any system as an organic whole “produces its own premises and thus rests upon its own foundations.”(88) Hence, the three sides in the socialist triangle in their mutual interdependence found socialism as an organic, completed system. However, this organicity of a system is a product of the historical process of “[subordination of] all elements of society to itself and [creation of] the organs it still lack in order to rest upon its own foundations”.(92) Lebowitz brings out a lucid Marxist understanding of this historico-logical process with regard to the emergence of the capitalist system by a rereading of Capital from this angle. He concludes that a capitalist mode of regulation is needed for capitalism to stand on its own foundations. There is no universal mode of such regulation; its constitution is relative to geo-historical specificities. Similarly, in the process of the becoming of socialism a socialist mode of regulation is needed, which will reproduce socialist relations and subordinate all the elements (inherited from the past) to the needs of this reproduction.

In his elucidation of The Concept of a Socialist Transition, Lebowitz begins with a critique of the stagist conception of socialism/communism which distorts Marx’s understanding of socialism/communism as a single organic system in the process of becoming. Under this scheme, a defect inherited from the past that was to be subordinated in the process of becoming was transformed into the foundational principle of the stage of socialism. Human beings were continued to be seen as private owners of labour power, and a right of inequality based upon unequal work capacity was sanctified. Still entitlements were not based upon an individual’s “capacity as a member of society”. Thus, individual material self-interest remained the lever, instead of being considered as a defect that must be fought against and subordinated.

Lebowitz recognises that in the process of their confrontation with capital workers change their circumstances and themselves – they come to understand the limits of economic action and extend their solidarian praxis to subvert capitalist class power. Through their political or class movement they win the battle of democracy and begin to rupture the logic of capital – and thus the process of the becoming of socialism based on the logic of human development emerges. It begins with a “critical rupture in property rights”, with the expropriation of the capitalists by the state in the name of the associated producers. However, such expropriation cannot have socialistic orientation unless there is a transformation of the state itself – i.e., its transformation “from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it”. But such transformation is imaginable only when the associated producers become possessors of production and reproduction – these would be socialist relations of production. In a sense, there must be simultaneous sustained attack on class despotism, on the “systematic and hierarchic division of labour” at both levels – the workplace and the state. And thus in this struggle, will emerge a new socialist mode of production, subordinating “all elements of society to itself”, creating organs specific to it and developing productive forces that reflect new relations of production. But to realise this the midwifery of a socialist mode of regulation is needed. Lebowitz is unequivocal in asserting that this will not be a despotic hierarchical state, but “the political form for the social emancipation of workers”, which will assert workers’ protagonism, not substitute it. It will be “the power of decentralised, democratic, ‘self-working and self-governing communes’ – a state of the Paris Commune type.”(119) Lebowitz cautions that there is no linear irreversibility in this process of socialist transition”: – every step is contested – “the logic of the old system weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”:

“Two paths – one going back toward capitalism and one advancing toward socialism. We come, then, to Lenin’s famous question, ‘Who will win?’ There is nothing inevitable about the answer.”(123)

There is no universal path to socialism. Different paths confronting diverse contingencies are directed toward the common goal of the full development of human potential. Lebowitz once again attacks stagism that dismantles the socialist triangle into some sort of universal historical sequence, asserting that such perception does not understand the organic character of socialism – the interdependence of the three sides. Only the recognition of the simultaneity of these elements can help us confront capitalism, which too is an organic system – “To change a structure in which all relations coexist simultaneously and support one another, you have to do more than try to change a few element in that structure; you must stress at all times the hub of these relations – human beings as subjects and products of their own activity.” Lebowitz stresses the conception of revolution as a process – “a process of contested reproduction.”(129)

There is a continuous need to subordinate capitalist relations and create new socialist elements. For this, social force is required in the form of state power. Some concrete proposals, like taxing the surplus value, ensuring transparency, transforming the workday to incorporate time for education for worker management, reorganisation of production at the base involving workers and community assemblies etc are discussed in the book. These are required for facilitating socialist transition in the societies where “the battle of democracy has been fought but not yet won” and where despite workers governments “the balance of forces favors capital”. These seemingly reformist socialist conditionalities put capital on defensive, they constitute despotic inroads on capitalist rights. However, they must encourage class protagonism of the workers or revolutionary practice, or else they would be reduced to statism and eventually help in the re-consolidation of capitalist class power. Workers and neighbourhood councils that foster cooperation and solidarity can act as “the elemental cells of the new socialist state”, as forms of popular protagonism. But for them to stand as viable foundations for a socialist alternative, linkages between them – interconnections among workplaces, within and between communities must be drawn. And ultimately producers must connect directly with their counterparts, the final consumers – i.e., needs and their knowledge must be liberated from “the tyranny of exchange value.” This liberation will eventually lead to continuous expansion of the commons.

The last chapter, Developing a Socialist Mode of Regulation, deals with the conception of the mode of regulation that would facilitate the inroads the new socialist society would make into capitalist sociality by ensuring the reproduction of socialist relations by strictly subordinating the vestiges of the older system. For Lebowitz, this mode is, first, an ideological fight that exposes capitalist perversions, while stressing the cooperative and solidarian practices. Secondly, it involves the creation of institutions that facilitate these practices, like workers’ and community councils. And, thirdly, it means an emergence of a kind of dual state power – the old state despotically dealing with capital and facilitating its own demise, and the new state emerging from below on the basis of the new institutions of popular power and practice. These two states complement one another, yet remain contradictory; so there is a continuous danger of the old consolidating itself, unless the new state expands and develops its elements by normalising and institutionalising socialist accountancy and rationality that focus on human development and needs.

Lebowitz finally asserts that a socialist mode of regulation requires a political leadership and even “a party of a different type” in order “to mediate among the parts of the collective worker, provide the welcoming space for where popular movements can learn from each other and develop the unity necessary to defeat capital.” This party must facilitate (not supersede) the popular initiatives from below. It must be the propagator of revolutionary practice as “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of the human activity or self-change” – as the self-emancipation of the working class.

“The Ultimate Contradiction of the Revolution”

Pratyush Chandra

Published as Afterword in Ron Ridenour’s book “Sounds of Venezuela”, New Century Book House, Chennai, 2011. This article tries to address some questions that have been raised by many Tamil comrades regarding the foreign policy of the Venezuelan State, especially in the context of state repression against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the Venezuelan and other ALBA states’ support to the Sri Lankan government in international forums.

The narrative Ron Ridenour has woven here in these pages provides a glimpse of the Venezuelan reality, which exposes not only the significance of the Bolivarian revolutionary processes, but also their contradictions. Obviously, these contradictions are the source of much anxiety among the friends of the Bolivarian revolution throughout the globe. But is it not true that a revolution is as much about hope as it is about apprehensions and dangers? A revolution is always unsettling. You cannot ever pronounce the final judgement about the event called revolution. That is why what famous Marxist historian George Rudé said about the French Revolution is true for all revolutions—”the Revolution remains an ever-open field of enquiry.”(1)


Nothing remains settled in the revolutionary process—otherwise how can it be called a revolution? We need to understand that this process is constituted by conflicts among various ever-new possibilities that emerge at every moment therein. Ideological struggles are nothing but representations of these conflicts; expressed in political programmatic language, these possibilities constitute the various lines within the revolutionary movement. These conflicts are what determine the course of the revolution.

To be more specific, there is always an impulse internal to the revolutionary process that seeks to control or limit the pace and extent of the revolution—to make things settled. It can have a positive implication to the extent that it compels the revolutionaries to be conscious of the course of the revolution and to be vigilant enough to differentiate between the forces of reaction and revolution that are internally germinating. The ‘faces’ of these forces do not remain the same—what seems revolutionary at one moment might dawn as reactionary at another. The conservative impulse we are talking about lies somewhere in the interstices of the moments of movement and consolidation, trying to break the simultaneity of these moments. When it is able to break this simultaneity, it morphs into a Thermidorian form with the apparent task of consolidating the revolutionary achievements and protecting them from the enemies. This Thermidorian power externalises all problems of revolution—it tries to cleanse the revolution of these problems so thoroughly that what emerges out of this deadly bath is a revolution sans revolution—sanitised of all contradictions.

The formalisation or institutionalisation of the achievements cannot be avoided. However, this is what gives birth to a new status quo, which tries to guard itself against revolutionary impermanence. It is a conflict like this that could be understood as a two-line struggle—between the emerging headquarters and the forces of continuous revolution. This struggle is in fact the revolutionary truth which cannot be avoided. No moment in the revolutionary movement is devoid of the forces of conservation, which have the potentiality of turning into a full-scale centrism or even reaction depending on the balance of class forces.

With regard to the revolutionary processes in Venezuela, it has been regularly emphasized that “the ultimate contradiction of the (Bolivarian) revolution” is the struggle internal to Chavism—”between the ‘endogenous right’ and the masses who have been mobilised.” Chávez himself frequently describes the Venezuelan reality in Gramscian terms—”The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” However, as Gramsci said, in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear—which appear in Venezuela (alongside the continued existence of the old oligarchy, latifundistas, monopoly capitalists and US imperialism) in the form of the new ‘boli-bourgeoisie,’ the military-civil bureaucracy, and ‘the party functionaries and nomenklatura’ who seek to thwart the class and mass initiatives from below.(2) These are the material forces, which with their dispassionate mannerisms try to conserve a pragmatic and ‘realistic’ Bolivarian future against the erratic spontaneism of grass roots initiatives. These are the Bolivarian headquarters.


As is well-known, historically there has been a systematic erosion of productive sectors in Venezuela which are not allied to operations of the oil industry. Since 1998, there has been a consistent endeavour to rebuild these other sectors of production and infrastructure around them. In order to achieve this, many steps both backwards and forward have been taken. Many bureaucratic, intermediary and petty bourgeois interests have not just been tolerated but even encouraged and promoted to compete with old oligarchies and corporate interests. Incentives to ‘native bourgeoisie’ and petty bourgeoisie have been an interim strategy of the Bolivarian regime to fragment the corporate unity of capital, while helping in diversifying the Venezuelan economy. In fact, the imperative to create an ‘alternative social bloc’ against corporate hegemony has forced a vision under which “capitalist sectors whose business activity entered into an objective contradiction with transnational capital” are not considered unapproachable.(3)

However, the radical supporters of the Venezuelan transformation have cautioned that the pragmatic need to neutralise private capitalist interests in order to develop a broader bloc against immediate enemies, like transnational capital and imperialist interests, must not scuttle the anti-capitalist nature of the transformation. It has been shown how “‘incentives’ to private capitalists in order to increase productivity” fail generally because they tend to strengthen the historically nurtured rentierist character of Venezuela’s native bourgeoisie. For example, incentives in agriculture without having a fundamental structural transformation have cost the Chávez government heavily, both politically and economically, as “the big landowner (latifundist) recipients of the Government’s generous agricultural credits and grants are not investing in agricultural production, in raising cattle, purchasing new seeds, new machinery, and new dairy animals. They are transferring Government funding into real estate, Government bonds, banking and speculative investment funds or overseas.”(4) These latifundistas have successfully used to their own advantage the Bolivarian government’s urgency to ensure domestic food security and agricultural productivity amidst volatile international relations by bargaining protection from the upsurge of peasants and landless organisations demanding radical land reforms. However, there has been an increasing realisation within the Bolivarian circles about the futility of such compromises with the rentierist forces.

The emergence of the Bolivarians at the helm of the existing political economic institutions has, of course, intensified the internal class struggle leading to a tremendous crisis for the status quo. But there still exists a considerable space for the consolidation of powerful economic interests because these institutions were essentially built for this purpose. The most recent case of their successful manoeuvrings has been exposed by WikiLeaks, which narrates how a radical Chavista, “Eduardo Saman was replaced as commerce minister following pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to protect old patent legislation and their profits.”(5)

There is a massive danger of the containment of the revolutionary pace and agenda, if the revolutionary forces are not vigilant enough with regard to the activities of those social classes that are crowding the institutions of revolution for incentives and patronage. The new intermediate interests that have emerged close to the state structure, along with the old ones, have resisted every popular attack on private capital. They have attempted to thwart endeavours to institute workers’ control over economic activities. Even within the oil and other ‘monopolistic’ industries, these interests have not conceded any substantial move beyond nationalisation, as state monopoly allows them to use their own proximity to the state machinery for intermediary profiteering. There has been a consistent resistance to the attempts to institute co-management,(6) not just from the side of corporate interests, but also from economistic trade unionism (especially in the state-owned petroleum company, PDVSA), which cannot envisage a system of workers’ control that questions the institutional hierarchy and labour aristocracy.

As long as there is a popular movement which questions and subverts the norms and everydayness of the bourgeois state in Venezuela, with the resoluteness to build ‘a new state from below’ with the novel institutions of protagonistic democracy and communal councils, there is a hope for the Bolivarian Revolution. Or else, “it will lapse into a new variety of capitalism with populist characteristics.”(7) That is why there has been a growing need to envisage the alternative bloc and class alliances which are subservient to the exigencies of “an overall system of socialized production.”(8) The accommodation of capitalist interests in any form (state or private), even when they are in consonance with the immediate interests of the revolutionary transformation at a particular juncture, is fraught with risks of the reassertion of ‘the logic of capital,’ and “there will be a constant struggle to see who will defeat whom.”(9) It is this logic and its constitutive representatives, who try to consolidate their position through the so-called ‘endogenous right’ of the revolution.


The emergence of headquarters in a revolution is linked with the question of state, state power and hegemony. During a revolutionary period the state returns to its elements—it emerges as a naked instrument of suppression—of holding down adversaries. The proletarian dictatorship too will not allow its enemies to have a free play. Revolution is a period when class struggles begin to explode the barriers of the existing state order and point beyond them. On the one hand, there are “struggles for state power; on the other, the state itself is simultaneously forced to participate openly in them. There is not only a struggle against the state; the state itself is exposed as a weapon of class struggle, as one of the most important instruments for the maintenance of class rule.”(10)

The global division of labour and the US hegemony reduced the Venezuelan economy to mere accumulation of oil rents, thus making proximity to the state the only viable route to economic success. In such an economy, the statist tendencies are bound to be very strong and entrenched in every layer of society. To complicate the matter, revolutionaries in Venezuela found themselves at the helm of the bourgeois state by following its rules, not by any insurrection. In such a situation, reformist tendencies will definitely be stronger among the ranks of the Bolivarians, who find revolutionary measures futile and even adventurist. These tendencies did suffer a temporary setback during the attempted coup of 2002, but as time elapses the cautious self-critical forces begin to find safe-play, gradualism and tactical compromises essential to consolidate power and achievements and to pre-empt any such drastic attack by counter-revolutionaries in future.

The left Chavistas, on the other hand, stress on the task of smashing the bourgeois state from within while positing a new state from below based on co-management of social and economic life. Like the ‘endogenous right’ they understand the need to consolidate, but for them consolidation is not separate from the destruction of the existing state form. Like Russian revolutionaries, they emphasize the development and independence of the working classes and their organs of self-activity, because only in this way can the workers protect their state, while protecting themselves from it! The defeat of the 2002 coup also demonstrates the impact of the unleashing of popular energy and self-activity and what that could achieve. Moreover, unlike in Russia, the state in Venezuela remains a bourgeois parliamentary state, which is alienated from the everyday life of the revolutionary masses.


Among several valuable insights that Ron Ridenour’s text provides regarding the nature of contradictions that pervade the revolutionary transition in Venezuela, there is an important point on the Venezuelan state’s approach to the struggles of the Colombian guerrillas, the FARC. Ridenour hints at the vacillation in this approach. However, such anomalies are numerous, especially when it comes to international relations. Throughout the globe, post-1998 developments in Latin America have been watched very intently, with a lot of hope and expectation. The consistent defiance of US hegemony by the Chávez regime has been a source of inspiration for various progressive movements everywhere. At least with regard to its position on the American manoeuvrings globally, nobody can fault the Venezuelan state—it never wasted any time to decry the imperialist interventions anywhere in the world.

But this has led to a genuine rise of expectations for support from progressive Latin American regimes (if not materially, at least through statements) for local movements against their particular oppressive states, even when there is no direct western backing to these states. In recent years, with many states lining up to define their own ‘war against terrorism’ in order to crush local critical voices and movements against them, the stance of the Venezuelan and Cuban states has not been supportive of the oppressed. In fact, any official voice from the West critical of the local states has many a time provoked statements from the progressive Latin American regimes that are supportive of the southern states like Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka even when these are highly oppressive. This has greatly frustrated the solidarity movements—some even going to the extent of calling the Latin American revolutionary processes ephemeral.

However, one must understand that the revolutionary process is not linear and smooth. It is not something homogeneous, and its targets are not just external. The intensification of revolution is the heightening of contradictions that constitute it. In fact, these constitutive contradictions internalise the so-called external elements—’alien’ class interests, the vestiges of old regimes, etc. Any attempt to avoid contradictions is a conservative attempt from the ‘endogenous right’ to homogenise the revolutionary voices behind the new institutions, alienating them from their organic roots in class struggle, thus giving birth to new bureaucracies—the agencies of the new order. It is the ‘endogeneity’ of this tendency that forces the revolutionary leadership to reassess the coordinates of the contradictions time and again. A fine discrimination of these coordinates in the revolutionary process gives an insight into the apparent anomalies. It was not for nothing that the 20th century revolutionaries time and again stressed the need to differentiate between the state (which even well into the first phase of communist society safeguards the bourgeois law) and the revolutionary masses. An understanding of this aspect is crucial in order to comprehend the problems and prospects of policy designs under a revolutionary regime, including its foreign policy and international relations.

It must be noted that revolutionary internationalism of the working class is an important weapon with which a revolution generalizes itself and resists its degeneration into nationalist statism by not allowing ‘revolutionary passion’ to die out. But it is not simply a subjective aspiration to generalize that gives birth to internationalism. Rather, it “is a necessity arising out of the fact that the capitalist class, which rules over the workers, does not limit its rule to one country.”(11) Thus, internationalism is a result of the class struggle going global—it is an endeavour to thwart the capitalist strategy of intensifying capitalist accumulation by segmenting the working class and its consciousness. It is in this regard that a revolution can be termed as international both at the levels of its causes and impact. It represents a crisis for the capitalist system.

Solidarity efforts in support of revolution beyond the immediate location of its occurrence, along with ‘indigenous’ revolutionaries’ support for movements beyond their location are crucial even for the survival of the revolution as a revolution. It can survive as such only by constantly asserting its international character, its inseparability from international class struggle. Otherwise, it will implode or be reduced to a mere regime change.

It is interesting to see how revolutionaries have time and again talked about the foreign policy of a revolution, not just that of the state. And this has been assessed by the revolution’s galvanising effect on the struggles of the working class and the oppressed in other locations. While criticizing the foreign policy of the Provisional Government (that emerged after the February Revolution of 1917) for conducting it with the capitalists, Lenin remarked:

Yet 1905 showed what the Russian revolution’s foreign policy should be like. It is an indisputable fact that October 17, 1905, was followed by mass unrest and barricade-building in the streets of Vienna and Prague. After 1905 came 1908 in Turkey, 1909 in Persia and 1910 in China. If, instead of compromising with the capitalists, you call on the truly revolutionary democrats, the working class, the oppressed, you will have as allies the oppressed classes instead of the oppressors, and the nationalities which are now being rent to pieces instead of the nationalities in which the oppressing classes now temporarily predominate.(12)

It is in this regard that many struggling peoples across the globe find the foreign policies of the progressive regimes in Latin America wanting. Especially, Cuba and Venezuela, the countries which are in the leadership of the anti-imperialist realignment in the post-Cold War era, have been criticized for not standing against the oppressive regimes of the Global South. They have been chastised for their frequent open support to these regimes, whenever they are attacked by the so-called international community.

The genuineness of these criticisms can hardly be questioned; however, they must go further and explain these stances in terms of their material foundation, rather than locating them in some sort of ideological and personality-oriented tendencies as many have done, who reduce the Chávez phenomenon to populist demagoguery and the Cuban regime to Stalinism. The existential anxiety of these regimes in the face of a strong imperialist unity against them is definitely one reason that must be considered. This makes them wary of any interventionist strategy on the part of the ‘international community’ against any regime. Further, the existentialist need to have an oppositional bloc in the international forums puts them in the company of strange allies.

However, we will have to make a fine distinction between the revolutionary process itself and the institutions, states and individuals that come up during this process. We cannot reduce the revolutions to their particular passing moments. We will have to recognize and accept that these revolutions are marked by intense internal contradictions, whose astute descriptions we find in Ridenour’s travelogue. The states in themselves have a conservative agenda, even when they are deeply embedded in the revolutionary process. They have the task to defend what has been achieved, and in mounting this defence they frequently fail to differentiate between the actual enemies of the revolution and the revolutionaries who are aware of the dilemma, of which Rosa Luxemburg talked about:

“Either the revolution must advance at a rapid, stormy, resolute tempo, break down all barriers with an iron hand and place its goals ever farther ahead, or it is quite soon thrown backward behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by counter-revolution. To stand still, to mark time on one spot, to be contented with the first goal it happens to reach, is never possible in revolution.”(13)


1. George Rudé: Revolutionary Europe 1783-1815. Fontana/Collins, 1964.
2. Michael Lebowitz: The Spectre of Socialism for the 21st Century (2008). Available online at:
3. Marta Harnecker: Rebuilding the Left. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2007, p. 35.
4. James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer: What’s Left in Latin America? Regime Change in New Times. Ashgate: 2009, pp. 192-3.
5. Tamara Pearson: “Venezuelans to Debate Patenting Laws after Revelation that Companies Conspired in Firing of Radical Minister,” (September 15, 2011).
6. The system of co-management envisages social control against any competitive congealment of sectionalist interests over economic activities. Under this system the economic sectors are co-managed by workers with the community at large.
7. Michael Lebowitz: Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2006, p. 116.
8. Petras and Veltmeyer, op cit, p. 234
9. Marta Harnecker, op cit, p. 36.
10. Georg Lukacs: Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought. Verso, 1970.
11. V.I. Lenin: Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social-Democratic Party (1895-96). Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 109.
12. V.I. Lenin: Speeches at First All Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies (June-July 1917). Collected Works, Vol. 25.
13. Rosa Luxemburg: The Russian Revolution (1918). Available at

Eva Golinger Misinterprets Solidarity: Support Tamils not Sri Lanka’s War Criminal Government

Ron Ridenour

Eva Golinger is known for her counter-intelligence analysis in the service of Venezuela’s peaceful revolution against the local oligarchy and the United States Empire. She is a noted author (“The Chavez Code: Cracking US intervention in Venezuela”). A dual citizen of the US and Venezuela, she is an attorney, and a personal friend of President Hugo Chavez, who dubbed her, La Novia de Venezuela (“the bride of Venezuela”). She is a frequent contributor to left-wing media around the world, and is the English editor of the Venezuela government newspaper, Correo del Orinoco.

Golinger is a name synonymous with solidarity and anti-imperialism. However, she recently inexplicably immersed herself into being a supporter for the most brutal, racist and genocidal government of Sri Lanka in a resoundingly irresponsible opinion piece printed in the Spanish daily version of Correo del Orinoco, May 15, and on May 21, published by the Caracas city government newspaper, Ciudad CCS. The piece was simply entitled, “Sri Lanka”. Printed in Spanish, I translate into English the major part of its content and analyze its errors with the goal of countering rumors she started, and in an effort to broaden support for a most maligned and oppressed ethnic group, the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Golinger wrote that, in 2005, Sri Lankan “presidential elections occurred for the first time in nearly 30 years. Mahinda Rajapakse obtained victory with more than 58% of votes. He was reelected, January 2010 with more than 60%.”

“Rajapakse, Buddhist leader, is supported by a coalition of leftist parties, among them the Communist Party. In May, 2009, Rajapaske finalized the civil war, defeating the armed organization, LTTE.

“The LTTE had close ties with the CIA, and Washington negotiated an accord with them for establishing a military base in the country, if they obtained power. Upon its defeat, the LTTE had established numerous organizations—fronts in different countries around the world, seeking to create `a government in exile´ and hoping to isolate the current government of Sri Lanka. Last week, representatives of one of its fronts, Canadian Hart, passed through Venezuela; it met with government functionaries seeking support in its intent to weaken the relationship between the two governments.

“Instead of relating to the illegitimate opposition in Sri Lanka, Venezuela should shake the hand of an ally that also suffers imperial aggressions.”

Golinger is factually incorrect

1. Mahinda Rajapakse is not the first president elected. In 1982, J.R. Jayawardane won the first presidential election with 52.9% of the vote. The United National Party (UNP)—a pro-western party of the comprador bourgeoisie—introduced a new constitution after its 1977 landslide victory. Before then, the office of prime minister was the highest, and Jayawardane won that post and the UNP took 80% of the parliamentary seats. In 1978, the new constitution renamed the country, “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”, but this had nothing to do with socialism. The economy then, as now, was a capitalist one with a neo-liberal orientation much like Chile after the 1973 coup d´etat.

According to the Government Department of Census and Statistics own figures (2006/2007), 82% of the rural population lives under the national poverty line while 65% of the urban population is not able to meet the minimum level of per capita daily calorie and protein intake recommended by the government Medical Research Institute. See official figures on the government website.

There can be nothing “democratic socialist” about discriminating against 15% of its population, the Tamil ethnic group, making them unequal by legally restricting their rights and privileges. Such has been the case since independence from Britain, in 1948. Even the U.S. Library of Congress studied Tamils as an “alienated” group. In 1988, it published, “Sri Lanka: a Country Study”:

”Moderate as well as militant Sri Lankan Tamils have regarded the policies of successive Sinhalese governments in Colombo with suspicion and resentment since at least the mid-1950s, when the `Sinhale Only´ language policy was adopted…”

2. Rajapakse won the fifth presidential elections and with the least majority of all presidents, 50.29%, not 58% as Golinger wrote. [Wikipedia ]

Rajapakse is the current leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), founded in 1951 to represent the Sinhalese bourgeoisie. In 1960 elections, Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranayake became the world’s first woman prime minister. The Moscow oriented Communist Party and the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samja Party (LSSP) formed the “United Front” coalition with the SLFP, in 1970. Now with three minister posts, the “old left” betrayed the young. Many Sinhalese leftist youth became disillusioned with the “old left” and after the SLFP returned to government, they rebelled. The so-called “leftist” government, with the CP and LSSP, branded this upsurge a “Che Guevarist uprising” and crushed the rebellion by killing about 20,000 mainly rural Sinhala youth, in 1971. The next year, these “left” parties drafted the first republican constitution in which Sinhalese was codified as the only official language and Buddhism the only the official religion—Tamils are not Buddhists. This eroded whatever support the “old left” had among both leftist Sinhalese and all Tamils. Since then neither the CP nor the LSSP has managed to get a single seat in the parliament independently. They are always with the capitalist party, SLFP.

3. Rajapakse won the January 2010 elections with 57.88%, not 60%, over his former chief general, Sarath Fonsekla, in charge of liquidating the LTTE (Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam). Fonseka’s party, New Democratic Front, received 40.15% of the vote. In desperation, a few Tamils voted for General Fonseka knowing that he was the main army force in carrying out the president’s orders in liquidating the LTTE, and massacring tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. The one difference between the two war criminals was that Fonseka later promised that he would release the rest of the interned Tamils and return their possessions and land. Tamils are crushed for now and resort to seeking a bit of breathing space. (Wikipedia entry on United People’s Freedom Alliance).

The egomaniacal president was not satisfied with just defeating his former general in the ballot box, he had him arrested and beaten, on February 7, shortly after the elections, and charged him with plotting a coup, which General Fonseka denies. A purge of scores of top military officers has occurred; a dozen or more Sinhalese and Tamil Journlists have been arrested. In the four years of Rajapakse rule, at least 23 journalists critical of his regime have been murdered: See 1 and 2.

4. “The LTTE had close ties with the CIA, and Washington negotiated an accord with them for establishing a military base in the country…” That is an outrageous and unsubstantiated allegation. In my month-long research last autumn, I found nothing to indicate Golinger’s unsupported claim. Looking up in Google for “LTTE and CIA”, nothing exists. When searching for LTTE and CIA and LTTE ties to CIA without quotation marks, nothing exists that binds them. I looked up some 200 hits and only found reference to the Golinger claim, and this was cited by a most skeptical Patrick J. O´Donoghue, news editor for the English-language website, in a May 23 commentary. He said: “I couldn’t believe what I read in the Caracas CC blatt!” We have no way of knowing if the LTTE even met with the CIA, but in war most anything is possible. What we can know is that the US, and its CIA and Pentagon, have long supported the genocidal Sinhalese governments, and most certainly that of Rajapaske, and it placed the LTTE on its Foreign Terrorist Organization hit list in 1997. I will delve into this farther on.

5. Golinger’s claim that Canadian Hart is a front for the LTTE is denied by several solidarity groups in Canada who know that organization for its humanitarian work. See their perspective, “Venezuela: Eva Golinger’s misinformation endangers exiled Tamils’ fight for freedom”, at:

6. Golinger depicts the Sri Lankan capitalist and genocidal government as an “ally” of Venezuela, one that she recommends her revolutionary government to “shake the hand of an ally that also suffers imperial aggression.” This boggles the mind, or “beggars belief”, as O’Donoghue wrote. Instead of opposing the Yankee Empire, her position is allied with imperialist United States and its allies Zionist Israel, the United Kingdom and other former European colonialists, as well as the emerging superpower and worker-exploiter China. (See my pieces “ALBA Let Down Sri Lanka Tamils”, “Equal Rights or Self-Determination”, and “The Terrorists: International support for Sri Lanka racist discrimination”. See the entire five-part series at: Radical Notes). There is no shred of evidence that the United States aggresses against Sri Lanka governments, on the contrary.

US Supports Sri Lanka Genocide

The Indian Ocean is a vital waterway where half the world’s containerized cargo passes through. Its waters carry heavy traffic of petroleum products. Sri Lanka cooperation is vital to the US Empire’s global interests. A separated Tamil state would complicate cooperation requirements.

The United States of America has been arming and financing Sri Lanka for most of the civil war period. [ ] From at least the 1990s, the US has provided military training, financing, logistic supplies and weapons sales worth millions annually. A Voice of America installation was set up in the northwestern part of the country.

The United States government praised Rajapaksa for restarting the war already in July 2006, and officially ending the ceasefire in 2008. The US embassy in Colombo issued this statement: “The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE…” (See

On May 26, 2002, the Colombo English-language Sunday Times wrote about a joint military pact between Sri Lanka and the U.S., a development taken soon after the CSA was signed.

“The Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement [ACSA]…will enable the United States to utilise Sri Lanka’s ports, airports and air space. As a prelude to the signing of the agreement scheduled for July, this year, United States Naval ships have been calling at the Colombo Port for bunkering as well as to enable sailors to go on shore leave.

“In return for the facilities offered, Sri Lanka is to receive military assistance from the United States including increased training facilities and equipment. The training, which will encompass joint exercises with United States Armed Forces, will focus on counter terrorism and related activity. The agreement will be worked out on the basis of the use of Sri Lanka’s ports, airports, and air space to be considered hire-charges that will be converted for military hardware.”

US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca was the key liaison person with the Sri Lankan government. [Rocca had been a CIA officer before joining the state department.] (See The ACSA agreement was not finally signed until Rajapaksa came to power. It was U.S. citizen Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary Defense Minister, and brother to President Rajapaksa, who signed the agreement, on March 5, 2007. (Their younger brother, also a minister, is a US citizen as well.)

George W. Bush was especially glad for Sri Lanka’s state terrorism. In 2006, he encouraged the government to resume the civil war, which Bush financed with $2.9 million. The Pentagon provided counter-insurgency training, maritime radar, patrols of US warships and aircraft. This was a continuation of “Operation Balanced Style”, which uses U.S. Special Forces instructors since 1996.

At the end of Bush’s first term, the US was forced to cut back on aid given that it was bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. That, coupled with critical public opinion, organized by the Diaspora, of state terrorism and systematic discrimination of Tamils, prompted congress to make noises about abuses of human rights by not only LTTE but possibly by paramilitary forces linked to the S.L. government. Thousands of Tamils blocked highways in Canada, camped outside British parliament for months, some committed suicide in front of government offices, while Indian Tamils conducted paralyzing strikes. Nevertheless, in 2008, the U.S. granted $1.45 million in military financing and training to the Sri Lanka government out of a total of $7.4 million in total aid. The US made noises about a ‘humanitarian crisis’ when the Sri Lankan army was about to finish the war but it never took affirmative action to bring the war to an end nor to condemn the army or government.

Even after leading international observers, and some of the mass media, especially in the U.K. and France, began to expose S.L. government and the army’s systematic atrocities against Tamil civilians, and captured LTTE soldiers, the US continued to back up the Sri Lankan government, in contradiction to Eva Golinger. In mid-April, 2010, the U.S. and Sri Lankan military forces conducted military exercises in Eastern Seas (Trincomalee) for the first time in 25 years.

Said Lt Col Larry Smith, the US defense attache: “The joint exercise helped members from our two militaries to exchange best practices on how to address complex humanitarian challenges.”

He added: “The US and Sri Lanka have a long tradition of cooperation. We hope this partnership can be expanded.”

Documentary film-maker John Pilger compares Sri Lanka’s genocide to Israel

“The Sri Lankan government has learned an old lesson from, I suspect, a modern master: Israel. In order to conduct a slaughter, you ensure the pornography is unseen, illicit at best. You ban foreigners and their cameras from Tamil towns like Mulliavaikal, which was bombarded recently by the Sri Lankan army, and you lie that the 75 people killed in the hospital were blown up quite willfully by a Tamil suicide bomber.” “Distant Voices, Desperate Lives,” New Statesman, 13-5-09.

When the U.S. does not want to be seen on the frontlines in a war, it sends in surrogates and Israel is its main partner in this war crime. Israel was officially re-awarded diplomatic relations, in May 2000, after Sri Lanka had severed them in 1970, in protest at Israel’s continued illegal expansion into Palestinian territory. (

Nevertheless, Israel continued to operate inside S.L. out of a special interests office set up in the US embassy. Under the table, Sri Lanka’s successive regimes embraced Israel’s military advisors, a special commando unit in the police, and Mossad counter-intelligence agents—who sought to drive a wedge between Muslims and Tamils. Israel sent Sri Lanka16 of its supersonic Kfir fighter jets, some Dvora fast naval attack craft, and electronic and imagery surveillance equipment, plus advisors and technicians. Israel personnel took part in military attacks on Tamil units, and its pilots flew attack aircraft. Tigers shot down one Kfir. Just before the end of the war, Prime Minister Wickremanayake was in Israel to make bigger deals with Israeli arms supplies. (See 1 and 2)

Sri Lanka government war crimes

Golinger even ignores ample evidence of extreme war crimes committed by her choice for president, Mahinda Rajapakse, against the minority Tamils. They have a righteous claim for liberation because of being subject to systematic discrimination, oppression and genocide. (Ibid: “Equal Rights or Self-Determination”.) Sri Lanka’s first president, J.R.Jayewardene, expressed the essence of this genocide to the “Daily Telegraph”, on July 11, 1983. “Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.”

In May 2009, Rajapakse had all the civilians who survived his gun fire placed into concentration camps, which he called “welfare villages”, much like those the Yankees concocted in Vietnam. In violation of United Nations international rules, as many as from 280,000 to one-half million people were forced interned. Today, one year later, 100,000 remain. Only two million S.L. Tamils remain in the country. Nearly one million have fled in the past three decades.

Even the U.S.’s choice for secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, was displeased with these camps when he made a brief visit to one shortly after the war’s end.

“I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes I have seen…I sympathize fully with all of the displaced persons.”

Several internationally respected organizations concerned about war crimes, and a few mass media journalists, have conducted interviews with IDPs, taken or viewed photographs, videos, satellite images—taken surreptitiously during the war—and have read electronic communications and documents from many sources. Some observers have been able to visit a camp or two.

On May 17, one of those organizations, the International Crisis Group, released its report, “War Crimes in Sri Lanka”. I cite from it:

“The Sri Lanka security forces and the LTTE repeatedly violated international humanitarian law during the last five months of their 30-year civil war…from January 2009 to the government’s declaration of victory in May [violations worsened]. Evidence gathered by the International Crisis Group suggests that these months saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and elderly killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths.

“This evidence also provides reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lanka security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible.”

Here is a revealing example of this evidence.

On August 25, 2009, Channel 4 News (UK) broadcast raw footage, one minute long, showing S.L. government soldiers casually executing eight bound and blindfolded, naked Tamil men, believed to be LTTE combatants. This is a war crime according to all international agreements. Rajapakse’s government denied the authenticity of the photos, apparently taken by a S.L. soldier and provided to Channel 4 through the exiled group of Sinhalese and Tamil journalists, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. But internationally renowned forensic experts have validated its authenticity. (See 1, 2 and 3)

In a recent Channel 4 News broadcast by Jonathan Miller, two eyewitnesses spoke of systematic murder of all LTTE fighters caught or surrendered. One witness is a senior army commander: “Definitely, the order would have been to kill everybody and finish them off.” A frontline S.L. soldier told Miller: “Yes, our commander ordered us to kill everyone. We killed everyone.”

Even the head general in charge of defeating the LTTE, General Fonseka, spoke of having orders from the Defense Secretary to kill leaders without taking prisoners—“all LTTE leaders must be killed”.

Returning to the International Crisis Group war crimes report:

“Starting in late January [2009], the government and security forces encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into ever smaller government-declared No Fire Zones (NFZs) and then subjected them to repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages and other fire. This continued through May despite the government and security forces knowing the size and location of the civilian population and scale of civilian casualties.

“The security forces shelled hospitals and makeshift medical centres—many overflowing with the wounded and sick—on multiple occasions even though they knew of their precise locations and functions. During these incidents, medical staff, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others continually informed the government and security forces of the shelling, yet they continued to strike medical facilities through May…”

Among the charges that must be investigated, wrote ICG, is “the recruitment of children by the LTTE and the execution by the security forces of those who had laid down their arms and were trying to surrender.”

Shortly after this report, Amnesty International released its report of torture in 111 countries. Among those A.I. condemns for the “politicization of justice” is Sri Lanka’s government. It also criticizes the UN “for its failure to intervene…By the end of the year, despite further evidence of war crimes and other abuses, no-one had been brought to justice,” A:I:’s Secretary General Claudio Cordone said. “One would be hard pressed to imagine a more complete failure to hold to account those who abuse human rights.” (See 1, 2 and 3)

Some leaders of ALBA countries may be under the impression that when westerners (A.I., ICG, Channel 4) protest about human rights abuse that this reflects the double speak language of white imperialism, or NGO imperialists. This is sometimes the case. But it is definitely not so with Sri Lanka. None of the western governments on the HRC wished to condemn Sri Lanka. They only condemned the LTTE and simply asked Sri Lanka to look into its own behavior during the war.

Do not take my word or those of A.I and ICG for this assessment alone but look at the conclusions drawn by internationally renowned figures with impeccable solidarity credentials, such as Francois Houtart, who, among other positions, is an honorary professor at the University of Havana. He chaired an 11-judge panel looking into war crimes charges against Sri Lanka’s government and army—the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka (PPT), held in Dublin in January. Among the many supporters of the panel and their conclusions is the senior advisor to President Daniel Ortega, Miguel D´Escoto. Ironically, Nicaragua is one of the ALBA countries that praised the Sri Lanka government and voted for their resolution at the HRC. The PPT’s conclusions approximate those allegations made by the above mentioned organizations: Sri Lanka committed “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”. These conclusions are found on pages 14-15 of the 50-page verdict.

On the Qualifications of the Facts

“Summing up the facts established before this Tribunal by reports from NGOs, victims’ testimony, eye-witnesses accounts, expert testimony and journalistic reports, we are able to distinguish three different kinds of human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan Government from 2002 (the beginning of the CFA) to the present:

• Forced “disappearances” of targeted individuals from the Tamil population;
• Crimes committed in the re-starting of the war (2006-2009), particularly during the last months of the war:
• Bombing civilian objectives like hospitals, schools and other non-military targets;
• Bombing government-proclaimed ‘safety zones’ or ‘no fire zones’;
• Withholding of food, water, and health facilities in war zones;
• Use of heavy weaponry, banned weapons and air-raids;
• Using food and medicine as a weapon of war;
• The mistreatment, torture and execution of captured or surrendered LTTE combatants, officials and supporters;
• Torture;
• Rape and sexual violence against women;
• Deportations and forcible transfer of individuals and families;
• Desecrating the dead;
• Human rights violations in the IDP camps during and after the end of the war:
• Shooting of Tamil citizens and LTTE supporters;
• Forced disappearances;
• Rape;
• Malnutrition; and
• Lack of medical supplies”
(See 1 and 2).


I urge ALBA members of the Human Rights Council—Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua—along with their brothers and sisters in Venezuela to recognize an error made when they promulgated Sri Lanka’s own resolution laid before the HRC and adopted by the majority, on May 27, 2009 –Resolution S-11/1, “assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights”.

The self-serving resolution only condemned the LTTE for acts of terror while praising the Sri Lankan government and supporting, naturally, its right to sovereignty. These ALBA countries, along with most members of the Non-Aligned Movement on the Council, let the entire Tamil people down, especially the Internally Displaced Persons. My assessment is shared by the people’s tribunal in paragraph 5.5:

“The Tribunal stresses the responsibility of the Member States of the United Nations that have not complied with their moral obligation to seek justice for the violations of human rights committed during the last period of war. After repeated pleas, and in spite of the appalling conditions experienced by Tamils, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council failed to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate those responsible for the atrocities committed due to political pressure exerted by certain Members.”

The PPT came to the opposite conclusion that Golinger does on all accounts. The US is not an actor of “aggression” against Sri Lanka’s government rather it is the case of one war criminal supporting another. The tribunal “highlights the conduct of the European Union in undermining the CFA of 2002. In spite of being aware of the detrimental consequences to a peace process in the making, the EU decided – under pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom – to list the TRM (Tamil Resistance Movement, which included the LTTE) as a terrorist organization in 2006. This decision allowed the Sri Lankan Government to breach the ceasefire agreement and re-start military operations leading to the massive violations listed above. It also points to the full responsibility of those governments, led by the United States, that are conducting the so-called “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) in providing political endorsement of the conduct of the Sri Lankan Government and armed forces in a war that is primarily targeted against the Tamil people.”

As solidarity activists, we advocate the right to resist and the necessity to conduct armed struggle once peaceful means fail to induce oppressive governments to engage in a process aimed at justice and equality—such is the case in Sri Lanka with the Tamil people, just as surely as it is in Palestine.

I find that most armed movements commit acts of atrocities, even acts of terror. The struggle for liberation in Cuba was an exception to the rule. Fortunately, it lasted just over two years. The armed struggle for liberation from Sinhala oppression against another indigenous group lasted for quarter of a century and, at the end, the LTTE clearly did resort to acts of desperation and terror. Other brave and righteous groups fighting for liberation, for equality and justice, such as Colombia’s FARC and Palestine’s PFLP, have also committed acts of terror. The ANC in South Africa was brutal in its struggle for liberation.

I wonder how I would act in such circumstances!

True solidarity activists have no choice. We must support the Tamil people. Today, they are in disarray. Various tendencies are in formation. But dialogue with them all is what solidarity forces must engage in around the world. One tendency is the new Provisional Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), which just formerly constituted itself in Philadelphia. Their coordinator, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, is a resident of the United States and an attorney. In February, he filed a suit in the US Supreme Court that would negate parts of the U.S. Patriotic Act and allow people to provide “material support or resources” to armed groups fighting for their liberation. Tamil Eelam advocates in the US have associated with the civil rights organization, Humanitarian Law Project, and along with supporters of the crushed LTTE and the PKK (Kurdish rebels in Turkey) are seeking to legitimize the rights of oppressed minorities to fight for liberation, if necessary with arms when peaceful means are impossible. See TGTE’s website.

My main motivation for siding with people who fight against oppression and for liberation is a matter of basic solidarity morality, and an understanding of this necessity for the suffering people. The basic reason why so many millions of people have respected and loved Che Guevara is because of this moral stance. To back any corrupt, capitalist, genocidal government—albeit in the name of support for “sovereignty”—is not consistent with Che’s and our collective moral stance.

A Discussion with the Producer of “Inside the Revolution”, Roberto Navarrete

A discussion with the Producer of “Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela”, Roberto Navarrete, preceded by the screening of the film.
Date: Monday, 12/04/2010. Time: 2:00-5:00 pm
Location: Indian Social Institute 10, Institutional Area, Lodi Road, New Delhi (India)

Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela
(Director Pablo Navarrete, 65mins, Alborada Films, 2009)

February 2009 marked 10 years since Hugo Chavez took office, following a landslide election victory, and launched his revolution to bring radical change to Venezuela. While wildly popular with many in the country, Chavez’s policies and his strongly-worded criticisms of the U.S. government have also made him powerful enemies, both at home and abroad, especially in the media.

Filmed in Caracas in November 2008, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Chavez’s controversial presidency, this feature-length documentary takes a journey into the heart of Venezuela’s revolution to listen to the voices of the people driving the process forward.

The film traces the recent history of Venezuela, before and after the election of Hugo Chavez to the presidency, using archive material and interviews with Venezuelans living in the barrios of Caracas who are involved in community and social movements. The achievements and challenges facing the Bolivarian process are put into context by means of interviews with leading Venezuelan social scientists Edgardo Lander and Javier Biardeau, as well as the Canadian economist Michael Lebowitz, who currently lives in Venezuela.

“This is a rare film about Venezuela, a country in extraordinary transition. Watch this film because it is honest and fair and respectful of those who want to be told the truth about an epic attempt, flaws and all, to claim back the humanity of ordinary people.”

– John Pilger (Journalist, author and documentary filmmaker)

“A lively, well-researched documentary which pulls off that most difficult of tasks – an honest account of the achievements and the weaknesses of the Chavez government.”

– Sue Branford (Journalist, former Latin American analyst for the BBC World Service)

‘The Four Rs’ of global capitalism

Michael A. Lebowitz, Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal

February 19, 2010 — Correo del Orinoco — In Venezuela, people know what the 3Rs stand for: revise, rectify and re-impulse. Like Karl Marx, who stressed that the revolution advances by criticising itself, President Hugo Chavez has argued that it is necessary to recognise errors and to go beyond them in order to advance.

But who knows what the four Rs of global capitalism are? At the recent meeting in Davos, Switzerland, of the wheelers and dealers of global capitalism, the conference theme was “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild — Improve the State of the World”. But what did they do? Although we don’t know what happened in their dinner meetings (which, as Adam Smith wisely observed, inevitably end up in a conspiracy against the public), there doesn’t appear to be much sign that they improved the state of the world. Of course, there was never a question that these corporate giants and their faithful servants would rethink the logic of capital — a logic of exploitation, expansion of capital, unending generation of needs and consumerism, and the destruction of what Marx called the original sources of wealth, human beings and nature. How could they? But did they redesign and rebuild in order to improve the state of the world for capital?

Not noticeably. However, that doesn’t mean they have not already been advancing on their real 3Rs. To improve the state of world capitalism, Reverse has become a major theme — especially in the western hemisphere. Given the growing rejection of neoliberalism and global capitalism that has been occurring in Latin America, given the inroads that have been made by a new conception of national sovereignty, international solidarity and socialism for the 21st century, capital sees the need to reverse those advances. Honduras, the Colombian military bases, subversion in Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela — all this is capital’s effort to improve the state of its world.

Of course, as we know, global capitalism has had its problems lately — the economic crisis, which is the result of a long process of overaccumulation. And so, it is indeed engaged in a process of redesigning or, rather, Restructuring. It is important to recognise that a crisis in capitalism is not the same as a crisis of capitalism. For a crisis in capitalism to become a crisis of capitalism, you need actors who are prepared to put an end to capitalism. There is, though, no sign of that in the immediate future. And so, like before, capital will proceed to restructure itself. After the depression of the 1930s, capital restructured itself internationally through the Bretton Woods agreements that created the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We can already see a similar attempt underway with the shift from the G7 to the G20 — in other words, the incorporation of new emerging capitalist powers such as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). And, international capital clearly hopes that through this process of restructuring in which it brings the new important capitalist actors to the head table for international discussions, it will be able to resume its process of growth in accordance with the logic of capital. Reverse, Restructure and Resume — these are the 3Rs that global capitalism wants.

However, there is a fourth R of global capitalism. The very solution to the crisis that capital introduces — that restructuring which brings the emerging capitalist countries to the central committee — implies the right of the latter to be full members, i.e., to achieve levels of consumption and economic development equal to the present levels of the North. Yet we know that the world’s resources and the Earth itself cannot possibly sustain this. And in this situation of true scarcity, how can capitalism solve this?

Capitalism, after all, is a system in which all capitals are trying to expand as much as possible. However, it is not a system in which all its members march in unison; and, as Lenin explained in relationship to World War I, the combination of uneven rates of development and scarcity is a major source of conflict among capitalist countries. In this situation, the new emerging powers want the fourth R– Redivision. Redivision of resources, redivision of industrialisation, redivision of the right to emit carbon — the struggle is on. It is a struggle over access by capital to scarce resources, energy, water and food.

Clearly, in this world of immense inequality, exclusion and starvation, redivision is necessary if we are ever to realise the ideal embodied in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela of the importance of ensuring the overall human development of all people. We want a world, a socialist world, in which (as Marx and Engels stressed) “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. But, capitalist redivision is a process of struggle over the right to exploit. It is a struggle not only among capitals but also against the exploited and excluded of the world.

Who would doubt that this struggle will become more intense as the logic of unremitting capitalist expansion comes up against the reality of natural limits? The slogan writers for Davos were right. We do need to “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild — Improve the State of the World”. And, we need to redivide, too — to create a world without capitalism. As Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez continue to remind us, humanity is faced with a critical choice — socialism or barbarism?

[This article first appeared in the February 19, 2010, issue of Correo del Orinoco, the new weekly English-language newspaper published in Venezuela.]

The Food Sovereignty Movement in Venezuela (II)

Anna Isaacs, Basil Weiner, Grace Bell, Courtney Frantz and Katie Bowen

Defining Food Sovereignty

During his expeditions with INIA Basil saw the work of rural communal councils. Through their communal councils, many agricultural villages and towns are organizing to develop transportation infrastructure in order to make production economically viable. Since isolation can threaten food sovereignty, this development is most urgent where dirt roads are all that connect remote villages to larger urban markets.. One such road lies in a mountainous region south of the city of Mérida in a cluster of small towns called Los Pueblos del Sur, or the villages of the south. The road is a patchwork; some sections are paved while others are virtually impassable without four-wheel drive. This patchwork road illustrates a very interesting dynamic of the Bolivarian revolution. With increased autonomy over their territory through legally recognized communal councils, some communities have made it a priority to improve their section of the road. They have created plans; they have applied for and received government funds and they have paved the sections that pass through their community. Neighboring communities have not.

This can easily be seen as proof of the ineffectiveness of community-based development. A road that passes through many communities presents the challenge of consistency. But development initiated by one community may motivate others. People can learn from a neighbor’s example that they have the very tangible power to direct the development of their communities and their regions; they may decide to pave their own sections of road.

8. Education

Education is central to building consciousness of farmers’ rights and urban peoples’ rights to food. Education in many social movements has been a tool to organize people. It is also a service that has been neglected in the Venezuelan countryside, leaving a whole constituency of citizens without access to schooling. Mission Sucre provides free higher education to poor and previously excluded people. The government expects the student body to grow to one million by 2009, with more than 190 satellite classrooms throughout Venezuela, especially in the countryside, where students are receiving higher education for the first time.[19] In the small farming village of Bojo we observed a classroom affiliated with the Bolivarian University that offered courses in agro-ecology. Students are expected to use the knowledge gained in their course to serve the community, linking theory to practice. The director, Andrés Eloy Ruiz describes the teachers in these classes as “leader[s] of the process of learning but also…full participant[s] in the process of connection with a community in which, with the knowledge that both students and faculty have, the community’s problems can be resolved.” The Ministry of Higher Education is particularly interested in creating agroecological programs that specialize in studies useful to peasants, the indigenous and African descendants.[20]

At the Simon Rodriguez University students are required to engage in the problems encountered in their communities. We heard from Maria Vicente that her worm cooperative in Mucuchies was benefiting from the help of agroecology students who came to her wanting to learn and asking how they could help. This shift in educational philosophy is creating professionals who are experienced in working in concert with the needs and priorities of communities.

Anna and Katie attended a three-day farmer’s conference in Mucuchies that was organized around the region’s problems with soil erosion. Students from the Simon Rodriguez University, many of them children of farmers, were at the conference to become involved in the political organization of their community. The conference was part of something larger we saw in Venezuela—a culture of workshops and sharing of knowledge. Soil erosion was becoming an economic as well as environmental problem for farmers in the region. This region is very special and seen as a model of success for what community organizing could look like in rural areas. Communal counsels, students, regional organizations like Instituto para la Producción e Investigación de la Agricultura Tropical (IPIAT), farming, processing, and vending cooperatives, and government services like INIA and INDER were organized into a larger Red de Comunicación Agrícola, or Network of Agricultural Communication, that had been meeting periodically. Because they were organized like this, they were able to mobilize by convening the conference to learn about erosion, techniques of agro-ecological production and recuperation of soil and water, and make agro-ecological farming the norm rather than the exception. In three days we learned the basic principles of agro-ecology. We watched presentations by regional activists like Lijia Para of Associacion y Coordinacion de Agriculturas de Rangel (ACAR), and experts like Fred Magdoff from Vermont and Miguel Angel Nuñez. We networked with others and learned about projects people were working on in the region, like reforestation and the rebirth of herbal medicine. Perhaps the most important thing I witnessed was farmers sharing their problems and successes in agro-ecological, small scale farming, and collaborating with students, government technicians, and experts in a beautiful participatory way. On the last day, people discussed goals for the region, one which was to stop using chemicals and large amounts of chicken manure fertilizers. As farmers, government workers, and activists alike received their diplomas for the completion of the course, we could see their excitement, looking forward to the changing future.

One of the most exciting schools we visited was the Latin American Institute of Agroecology “Paulo Freire” school in Barinas. The worldwide peasant movement, Via Campesina, that provided the definition of food sovereignty for this paper and the peasant movement in Brazil, Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), approached Chavez in 2005 at the World Social Forum to create a farmers school in Venezuela. Chavez agreed and with Bolivarian University funding, donated 35 hectares of land expropriated from an privately-owned latifundio. Seventy students (48 male, 22 female) between 18 and 30 years of age from 7 Latin American countries were elected by the peasant movements of their countries and arrived to build their campus from scratch. Students from Venezuela are elected by the Frente Nacional Campesino Ezequiel Zamora.

In five years, the students will graduate with professional degrees. There are eleven professors that teach classes from epistemology to physics, agricultural history to biodiversity and plant life. The institute is named after the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, universally known in the field of popular education. The pedagogical method fuses university studies with the traditional knowledge and culture that each individual and the collective holds. “The result should be that the political thought of pedagogy is committed to the social dynamic of the popular struggle.” When Anna asked what the students wanted to do after graduating, most said they were going back to their families to farm, become leaders in social movements, and do community organizing.

A student named Orlandiz told us his family and other families took over land in Zulia and formed a farming cooperative with the help of Mission Zamora. He became active in Frente Zamora and they elected him to go to the school in Barinas. As he was teaching us how to grow yucca, he was asked whether he had known how to do this before going to university. He replied, “I, shamefully, am the son of a campesino, so I always knew how to plant yucca but I didn’t know why I was doing it. Now I am testing what I learned before and am more connected to it.” At the school, students are learning to be proud to be farmers, learning how important they are to society and using that power to organize around their rights as producers of labor and consumers of the fruits of the earth. Sixto, from Brazil, sported a MST shirt that said: “organize, produce, feed.” The goals of the school are similar: produce food to become self-sustaining, organize politically, and work within the community while learning academically.

The land that was given to them by the Venezuelan government serves as a ground for experimentation. In one area an old yucca field had been allowed to grow wild to let the land recuperate from the chemicals that the previous latifundio used and to see what grew there naturally. In another area, they were using the Mexican growing model of intercropping beans, corn, and squash. As the need for more classrooms grew, the students started constructing classrooms out of straw and mud as an exploration into native, sustainable architecture. We helped them build a pond for the ducks and advised them to learn about plants that purify and hold water. The next day they started to do this. This mentality and interest in experimenting was prevalent, and was often carried over into community work. For every 16 weeks spent on campus, 6 are spent in farming communities all over Venezuela participating in innovative, experimental projects. By funding a school that serves all of Latin America, Chavez has received a force of young enthusiastic students who are working on Venezuelan projects while catalyzing an agrarian movement throughout Latin America.

9. Food systems outside of the government

While the government is doing as much as it can to advance towards food sovereignty, there is also plenty of room to work outside the government towards these same goals.

Cecosesola is an umbrella cooperative in Barquisimeto that incorporates 80 organizations in 5 states. It was started in 1967 by 9 cooperatives who wanted to provide affordable means of burying the dead. By the 1970’s it evolved into a subsidized bus transportation service. By 1984 Cecosesola had reorganized to provide mobile food markets. This method of selling directly to people was highly successful and led to the idea of having permanent distribution areas in the city.

Now Cecosesola has 3 ferias, or markets, where food and other household necessities are sold. Their cooperative is the largest network of food production and distribution in the country. During our time in Barquisimeto, we worked at the feria in the center of the city. The cooperative is a wholesale distributor of fresh produce supplied by 12 farmer associations and 12 food processing associations, all within a 5-hour drive.

What makes Cecosesola so influential and important is the price of the food they provide, their direct connection with their associated producers, and the methods they’ve developed to create egalitarian relationships among their members. The cooperative was created in the 1960’s in order to provide affordable necessities to communities. Today, Cecosesola works directly with local growers and the price it pays for produce is based on what it costs the farmers to produce; in this way the cooperative pays the farmers a fair price for their produce. Cecosesola’s prices are approximately 50% of the prices found in supermarkets and estimates are that their produce uses 80% less chemicals. In a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, over 55,000 families get their weekly supply of food from the cooperative.

At Cecosesola the members of the cooperative meet to decide what wage they should all receive in relation to their costs and profits. Cecosesola’s financial information is completely transparent and since job rotation is practiced, most members have a good understanding of every aspect of the cooperative’s functioning. Cecosesola makes an annual profit of 1.5%. 1% is to counter inflation and .5% is invested back into the cooperative and used for social benefits for the members. Some examples of this are the clinics they maintain in different areas of the city, and a state-of-the-art health center, still under construction, which will serve those who work at the feria, their families, and associated producers. The services of the clinic and health center are available to the general population as well, with fees set to recoup the costs of service.

Las Lajitas is a small farm near Monte Carmelo and Bojo in the state of Lara, near Barquisimeto. It is the organic branch of a larger cooperative, La Alianza. La Alianza is one of the many producers in the country that are associated with the Cecosesola project. Some of us worked for three weeks at Las Lajitas and had the opportunity to see both how the farm is organized and run internally and how it interacts with the larger, regional Cecosesola food system.

In the 1960’s a small group of European Catholic missionaries came to the region with the intention of working with the communities to help solve local problems. Following the principles of liberation theology, the priests worked in close cooperation with farmworkers in the region to confront issues of poverty: hunger, malnutrition, exploitation and landlessness. La Allianza was created, and eventually obtained land and became an important agricultural producer for the region. Their association with Cecosesola has brought in reliable income for decades. The associates at Las Lajitas explained that this association was created, the most they could get for a kilo of potatoes was two bolivars; the same potatoes would end up in an urban supermarket settling for bolivars per kilo. Instead of an “invisible hand” that threatens the economic viability of the production of food, producers and vendors meet every 3 months. Once the price of labor and all other inputs (seeds, fertilizers, water, electricity) are calculated, a price is decided based on how much it costs to produce.

Regional integration is very well established in this food system. Food produced at Las Lajitas goes to 8 de Marzo, the women’s pasta making cooperative and or to Moncar, a women’s sauce and jam making cooperative. These processes of adding value to locally produced raw materials have bolstered the local economy.

While Cecosesola is autonomous and unaffiliated with the government, La Allianza does accept government assistance. INIA has worked with them on on issues related to soil health and quality, seed saving techniques, worm technology and micro-rizome experiments. They have been instrumental in helping the farm become organic. Some of the farmers have been involved in national and international outreach efforts to share the knowledge they have acquired through their 40 year process of learning.

8 de Marzo is a women’s cooperative in Palo Verde that sells whole wheat and vegetable-derived pasta to Cecosesola. This cooperative was primarily founded by women. Many rural women in Venezuela carry a double burden; they work for low wages outside the home, but they also put in long hours of unpaid domestic work, and in addition, many are single mothers. In rural areas migrant farm work pulls families apart, leaving women to care for the home and children. 8 de Marzo has significantly benefited the economic lives of the women who work there.

8 de Marzo has also closed the gap between poor producers and poor consumers. They work closely with the people they buy from and sell to in order to create a network of cooperation. They source vegetables from Las Lajitas to support organic farming in their local economy. They set their wages just above minimum wage so that their product can be sold at affordable prices. There are many benefits that have been socialized and localized: food stamps are provided by the cooperative that are spent at a store which is owned by their members and which carries their products. Women members are paid by the cooperative to care for each others children. 8 de Marzo decides collectively what they need and want. In this model, there is a space to discuss women’s issues, labor, economics, food systems, and the environment, and to build their collective political power as women, campesinas, workers, and people.

The cooperative Bervere in Tucaní has struggled with selling their produce at fair rates. They are far away from Cecosesola and felt that selling to them was not profitable. They also sold their produce to the Venezuelan Agrarian Corporation, but they waited 9 months for payment—CVA is a slow moving government program that is still in its infancy—only a year old. It was easier and more reliable for Bevere to sell to intermediaries even though they received lower prices. It is obvious that the connection between producer and consumer is what needs the most improvement; it is the part of the food system that is the weakest. We visited Barrio San Juan in Caracas, where the Colectivo Revolucionario de San Juan actively sought out small farmers outside the city and by eliminating intermediaries was able to sell produce at a farm stand at the base of the barrio. The small profit made by the collective is being used to build a community center where the farm stand can expand into a large open-air market. Every Sunday some of the money is used to cook a huge pot of soup and the whole barrio is invited to eat and spend time together in order to strengthen the community. As the project continues, a comuna is developing, including communal council members, the collective, the farmers, and those interested in running the cooperative food market. The cooperative food market is a great example of a Social Production Enterprise that will further endogenous development between the producer and consumer. The space where the market will one day stand is now just rubble under a highway overpass, but neighbors shows up regardless to play dominoes and bingo, and talk politics. They are building the energetic foundations of an important community space.

Further Problems: World Food Crisis

Since 2003, household poverty in Venezuela has been cut in half, from 54% to 27.5%[21]. As Venezuela’s poor obtain more spending power, they are able to consume more than ever before (some say 400% more), contributing to inflation. In three years alone, from 2004 to 2007, consumption more than doubled from $24 billion to $52 billion. On a global scale, from 2002 to 2007, global consumption of milk rose by 14.3% while the number of milk cows rose by only 1%. Production has not kept up with consumption. President Chavez commented, “The impact of tighter food supply is already evident in raw food prices, which have risen 22% in the past year… wheat prices alone have risen 92%”[22]. When most of one’s income goes towards food, as it does in Venezuela, these numbers are very damaging, with the damage falling disproportionately on the poor. Venezuela’s problem is part of a larger food crisis worldwide, where inflation and food shortages are reoccurring. For example, in 2007, when many bakeries in Mexico went out of business due to rising wheat prices, protestors took to the street. Mexico imports over 60% of the wheat it consumes. Recently, Afghanistan asked for $77 million in emergency food aid. The Philippines have had difficulty in meeting their rice quota after a 40% rise in the price of rice. This crisis is new and baffling: never have we seen these patterns without war, drought, or natural disasters.[23]

Fossil Fuel Dependency Creates Contradictions Worldwide

Chavez has said that one of the causes of rising food prices may be global warming. Oil revenues are being invested into agricultural production, but what is oil, a fossil fuel, doing to agriculture in the long term? Fossil fuels contribute to global warming, which is predicted to contribute to the world food crisis. According to a new study at the Carnegie Institution and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, researchers found that in the past two decades, warming temperatures have caused annual losses of roughly $5 billion for major food crops.[24] While there is a lot of work being done to develop more understanding of agro-ecology, the production of petro-fertilizers has not slowed down. We drove past an industrial complex that produced the petro-fertilizers, brandishing the state oil company’s name, PDVSA. As we passed the complex, our professor’s partner explained to us that PDVSA fertilizers were being traded with Cuba, marking a disappointing regression from agro-ecological farming since 1989 when trading with the former Soviet Union collapsed.

Another factor, as Chavez says, “is Bush’s crazy plan to use food to make fuel.” He is referring to the United State’s policy of using subsidized corn for the production of ethanol, which caused the global price of corn to increase by 44% in 2008. In response, Chavez banned corn exports to ensure that corn would be used only for consumption.[25] Evo Morales, president of Bolivia has said, “Agro-fuels are not an alternative, because they put the production of foodstuffs for transport before the production of food for human beings. Agro-fuels expand the agricultural frontier destroying forests and biodiversity, generate monocropping, promote land concentration, deteriorate soils, exhaust water sources, contribute to rises in food prices and, in many cases, result in more consumption of more energy than is produced.”[26]

Food Security vs. Food Sovereignty

Relying on food imports may alleviate the short-term crisis of food shortages, but will not ensure a long-term solution that leads to food sovereignty. This has to be achieved by entrusting workers and communities with the power over their own food production and distribution. While Mercal is concerned with feeding the hungry through subsidized commodities that foster food security, the mission as of now doesn’t tackle issues essential to food sovereignty like fair trade, land degradation through chemical use, culturally appropriate and healthy foods, or building endogenous development—because they can import, buy from transnationals operating in Venezuela, or buy from large latifundios. To help overcome food shortages, Chavez lightened restrictions on the importation of 50 products[27]. This will not achieve sovereignty over Venezuela’s food system. While the minister administering Mercal might request a larger budget to import more beans, the minister of INIA might be more interested in figuring out how to increase bean production within the country. Even if a nation was secure in its bean production, if its security was brought about by a government-owned food system that hired people to work in government farms, factories, and distribution sites, then food sovereignty would only be obtained on the national level, rather than the local level. In this classic socialist sense, the state could control all the means of production and create complete food security. But socialist agricultural development looks very different than this in Venezuela. The food sovereignty movement is, essentially, socialism decentralized. The Venezuelan government is a supportive facilitator for the projects that cooperatives and communities decide they need for themselves.

However, the immediate need for food security can and does delay the larger movement for food sovereignty. The debate and contradictions forming around food security and food sovereignty are taking place worldwide. For example, Ecuador’s constitution states that food sovereignty is a priority but they also allow GMOs into their country. MST of Brazil is an internationally known organization that has gained political recognition and power, but Brazil is also one of the largest producers of soy for export.


It is interesting to look at how the numbers mirror each other: 80% of people in poverty, 90% urbanized, 70% of food imported, 70% of land in the hands of 3% of the population, and 2% of GDP based in agriculture. The problems of food and poverty are connected. They do not represent a nation that is sovereign or sustainable. In the case of Venezuela, these numbers are also a result of neo-liberal development. The examples presented in this paper, of new laws, new techniques, new organizing are examples of what Venezuela calls endogenous development, which represents a different model of development for agriculture, for people, and for the nation—development that is communal and local and ensures the people’s sovereignty and sustainability. For one of the first times in Latin American history, there is synergy between the efforts of the government and people because through participatory democracy, the people have become their own government. They rightfully aim to be sovereign from foreign corporations and US imperialist intervention. This sovereignty has bubbled over to all sectors, one of the most important being food. One of the goals of the government and the people is a food system that is just and sustainable, that is able to provide what people need. Based on the examples provided here, it is certain that great strides have been made in the 10 years of Chavez’ administration. Agricultural production has increased by 24%, corn production by 205%, rice by 94%, sugar by 13%, and milk by 11%.[28]

The Bolivarian movement, symbolized and led by Hugo Chavez, is working towards a different set of ideas, principles and goals. Just like healthcare and education, access to food is a constitutionally protected basic human right. The Venezuelan Food Security Law states:

“It is indispensable to guarantee to all Venezuelan citizens access to quality food in sufficient quantity. For true and revolutionary rural development, it is necessary to overcome the traditional market conception of foods and agricultural products. This vision is a detriment to the fundamental right that all Venezuelans have to feed themselves.”

The government and the people of Venezuela share a common perspective about what their problems are and how they should go about solving them. When people are given the tools and the freedom to produce how and what they want, they inevitably begin to create a society that has the interests of its very designers at the center, the interests of people and their sovereignty.

The authors recently spent three months studying in Venezuela with the academic program Building Economic and Social Justice of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.


[19] Podur, Justin. “Venezuela’s Revolutionary University.” Znet. 22 Septmenber 2004. 7 May 2009. [1]

[20] Gilbert, Chris and Cira Pascual Marquina. “A Leap Forward: Higher Education in the Bolivarian Revolution.” Venezuela Analysis. 27 November 2006. 24 May 2009. [2]

[21] Weisbrot, Mark. “Poverty reduction in Venezuela: A Reality-based View”. Scribd. Fall 2008. 1 June 2009. [3]

[22] Fuentes, Federico and Tamara Pearson. “Combating Food Shortages in Venezuela.” Green Left Weekly. 3 February 2008. 26 May 2009. [4]

[23] Suggett, James. “Chávez Emphasizes Global Context of Venezuelan Food Shortages.” Venezuela Analysis. 27 March 2008. 1 June 2009. [5]

[24] “Global Warming Causes Losses in Food Production.” The Energy Blog. 20 March 2007. 28 May 2009. [6]

[25] Suggett, James. “Venezuelan Government’s Strategies for Confronting Food Supply Shortages.” Venezuela Analysis. 7 February 2008. 27 May 2009. [7]

[26] Lerner, Josh. “Communal Councils in Venezuela: Can 200 Families Revolutionize Democracy?” Z Magazine. 6 March 2007. 5 May 2009. [8]

[27] Suggett, James. “Venezuelan Government’s Strategies for Confronting Food Supply Shortages.” Venezuela Analysis. 7 February 2008. 27 May 2009. [7]

[28] Suggett, James. “U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Says Venezuela Prepared for World Food Crisis.” Venezuela Analysis. 27 February 2009. 16 May 2009. [9]


The Food Sovereignty Movement in Venezuela (I)

Anna Isaacs, Basil Weiner, Grace Bell, Courtney Frantz and Katie Bowen

Defining Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty is a relatively new concept. Originally coined and defined by the international peasant movement, Via Campesina, in Mons, Belgium in 1993, it is:

“The RIGHT of peoples, countries, and state unions to define their agricultural and food policy without the “dumping” of agricultural commodities into foreign countries. Food sovereignty organizes food production and consumption according to the needs of local communities, giving priority to production for local consumption. Food sovereignty includes the right to protect and regulate the national agricultural and livestock production and to shield the domestic market from the dumping of agricultural surpluses and low-price imports from other countries. Landless people, peasants, and small farmers must get access to land, water, and seed as well as productive resources and adequate public services. Food sovereignty and sustainability are a higher priority than trade policies.”[1]

Via Campesina, in its definition, clearly states certain specific issues that deserve more attention in relation to Venezuela’s current recovery of its food sovereignty. These issues are absolutely essential, not only in guaranteeing that local food needs be met by local food production, but also in protecting the cultural heritage of people who have invested generations upon generations in the same land. All over the world, where people have had land in their families for centuries, the land is being lost because of the dumping of heavily subsidized, imported foods onto their local markets. Farmers cannot compete and must give up their land. With those losses goes pride and the hope for locally based and supported food systems. Rising numbers of farmer suicides are the ultimate result of a system of global trade that strips away the land, its products, cultural heritage and pride. People are dying because they cannot afford to eat and farmers are dying because they cannot afford to feed.

Some of Venezuela’s obstacles to food sovereignty include: the speculative market that formed around buying and selling land; the transformation from individual landowners to conglomerate companies, and farmers to farm workers; and technology that has made a small farmer’s way of life economically unsustainable.

Economic History

The story of the Venezuelan economy deserves special attention because of the presence of oil. In order to understand the specific forces working against food sovereignty, we must travel to the 16th century, when Spanish colonizers arrived to Venezuela’s fertile grounds. Isabel Allende once commented on the fertility of Venezuelan soil: if she didn’t dust daily, she would arrive home to find a plant growing straight out of the dust on top of her furniture. The Spanish colonizers enslaved Africans and native peasants, and grew cocoa, coffee, sugar, cotton, and tobacco for export. At least 70% of the population lived in the countryside and 80% of the country’s revenues were attributable to agricultural production. After the War for Independence (1821-1839), strongmen, caudillos, who had risen through the ranks during the war won large estates called latifundios, and land was further consolidated into fewer hands.

In 1914, however, the country’s oil wealth was discovered, and within 50 years Venezuela’s economy had been completely reoriented. With two world wars, petroleum-based industrialization and use of personal vehicles, the world demand for oil increased dramatically. Instead of agricultural exports, the country exported oil, and by 1957 agricultural activity only accounted for 1.9% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Most widely referred to as “Dutch disease”, the Venezuelan economy suffered from paralysis in all sectors not affiliated with oil. Domestic agricultural production could not meet domestic demand and the country quickly became a net importer of food. The countryside was no longer of service to the oil-rich policy makers and fell into a state of neglect. With another oil boom in the 1970’s, the Dutch disease only worsened. The increased importation of food crippled local agricultural production, leaving large groups of Venezuelans with no choice but to migrate to the cities where there was more hope of finding work. As a result, Venezuela is one of the most urbanized countries in the world with most sources estimating that approximately 90% of the population is located in urban areas. Today, any traveler can observe the effects: shantytowns, or barrios, crowd the hillsides around the more well-to-do city centers. Employment rates and infrastructure cannot keep pace with mass migration. Residents don’t always have water or electricity; roads, which are usually too narrow for automobiles to navigate, aren’t officially named or marked. In the overcrowded conditions, poverty festers.

In 1989, President Carlos Andrés Pérez gave in to IMF policies. Pérez was required to apply the neo-liberal package: privatizing services, cutting social spending and subsidies, orienting the economy for export, and deregulating trade.[2] Venezuela’s economy was already oriented towards the export of oil, which destroyed internal agriculture production, caused a build-up of poverty in the city and created a need to import more food. But the new policies also demanded that social spending and subsidies be cut. With the government unable to subsidize Venezuela’s own oil, prices of everything, especially food and transportation, doubled overnight, and Venezuelans took to the streets rioting, in what is called the Caracazo. The Pérez government brutally repressed the rioters, killing thousands. Most observers believe that Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998 in direct response to failed neo-liberal policies and the repression of the Caracazo: Chavez’s victory symbolized taking back sovereignty and working for the welfare and needs of the people. Chavez won on a platform to eliminate corruption, fight poverty, and create a new constitution. The 1999 constitution, drafted by a popular assembly and approved by a clear majority of the population, is considered one of most progressive in world. It prioritizes food sovereignty, addressing food as a basic human right, not merely a commodity.

Food Culture

Hugo Chavez and his government are among the first policy makers in the world to address issues of food sovereignty, but they are working against years and years of damage that have already been done. The present-day reality is that Venezuela imports 70% of the food it consumes. Pabellon, the national plate of Venezuela, is made of slow roasted, pulled beef, white rice, black beans with cheese, and fried plantains. However, Venezuela does not produce the entirety of its national meal; the majority of black beans and beef consumed in the country are imported. In supermarkets food prices are about the same as they are in the U.S., but Venezuela’s minimum wage is $11 US a day. This does not translate perfectly to the U.S. because many poor people in Venezuela don’t pay rent and there are no property or income taxes. Nonetheless, a high percentage of one’s income goes to food, especially for those living in poverty.

Compared to most of the nations of Latin America, Venezuela is relatively prosperous, and for the most part, minimum caloric intake is met. However, in many quarters, the diet is poor. We found it odd to learn that Venezuelans don’t eat many vegetables when their soil is so fertile and they could grow them all year long. Salad was rare. Fruit was readily available, but it was usually served as juice, with a lot of added sugar. You find a lot of processed flours, powdered milk, and hydrogenated oil—a diet similar to that consumed by many people in the United States. One of our classmates became sick and told her host-mom that she hadn’t been able to poop for the past 3 or 4 days. Her host-mom seemed to think this was normal. Upon my arrival to Venezuela, my host-brother wanted to take me out. I was expecting Venezuelan cuisine. Instead, we went to the mall where he professed his love for McDonalds to me. These experiences could just be a few extreme, isolated cases, but if Venezuelans had control over their food supply, would they be eating this way? Would they be connected to their luscious countryside and eat more fresh vegetables and less sugars and starches? Would they practice a more traditional food culture and less addiction to corporate American brands?

As campesinos were pushed off their land and flocked to the barrios to find jobs in oil and industry, Venezuela lost much of its traditional food culture and its ability to feed itself. In Venezuela, corporations have the ability to dictate what is eaten and create a demand for their products through marketing and media control. Venezuela has been colonized by food corporations. You can’t get away from Nescafe and Coca Cola. The “globalization” taking place around the world can also be called “Americanization”.

How is Venezuela moving forward to food sovereignty and away from the problems history has brought them?

1. Land reform

Article 307 of the constitution states:

“The predominance of latifundios is contrary to the interests of society. Appropriate tax law provisions shall be enacted to tax fallow lands and establish the necessary measures to transform them into productive economic units, likewise recovering arable land. Farmers and other agricultural producers are entitled to own land in the cases and forms specified under the pertinent law. The State shall protect and promote associative and private forms of property in such manner as to guarantee agricultural production. The State shall see to the sustainable ordering of arable land to guarantee its food-producing potential.”

Likewise, the constitution specifies that it is the State’s obligation to promote the development of agriculture in Venezuela:

“The state will promote conditions for holistic rural development, with the purpose of generating employment and guaranteeing the peasant population an adequate level of well-being, as well as their incorporation into national development. Similarly, it will support agricultural activity and the optimal use of land, by means of the provision of infrastructure works, credit, training services, and technical assistance.”

Reforms to Article 471 of Venezuela’s Penal Code de-criminalize small farmers who occupy private lands. The Law on Land and Agricultural Development of 2001 is the legal framework of land redistribution, which President Chavez calls “a return to the countryside”. The law aims to tax unused property that could potentially be used for growing and raising food. It also redistributes unused government-owned land to peasant families and cooperatives and expropriates uncultivated land for redistribution, while compensating private owners at market value. The size of uncultivated landholdings is limited to 50 hectares of high quality land and 3000 hectares of low quality land, with another four categories between these two extremes.

The National Land Institute (INTI) oversees the land redistribution process. It determines what land can be redistributed and who, out of those applying for land deeds, is eligible. Mission Zamora is a government initiative inspired by Ezequiel Zamora who was a crusader for land reform and peasants’ rights in the 1850’s. The mission is in charge of helping to organize small and medium producers and assisting them to receive land titles. When the work of these institutions started, 70% of cultivatable lands were in the hands of 3% of the population. By 2005 2.2 million hectares of state owned land had been redistributed to more than 130,000 peasant families and cooperatives. One million hectares of private land had been redistributed, of which 90% are successfully producing food.[3]

Recuperated lands are distributed to cooperatively run projects called Zamoran Farms. The land is owned by the state, but it is considered the cooperative’s as long as it remains productive. Value added to the land, such as housing, tractors, livestock, recuperated soil or planted trees, is classified as productive and belongs to the cooperative.

We visited such farms in Venezuela. One was a 60-hectare parcel of formerly idle, stateowned land in Merida, which the government granted to small producers. 63 people showed interest in the land, but they did not complete the free workshops offered by the government mission, Vuelvan Caras, which educates people about how to form cooperatives. As a result they were not eligible to attain helpful micro-credits and benefits from the government. Disappointed, they tried to divide the land into individual family farms to create an association of producers, but they could not create consensus and many people left. Out of the 63, seven stayed to form the cooperative, now called Pan y Amor, or Bread and Love.

We visited another Zamoran farm in Tucaní. The land redistribution process there was entirely different. The land was formerly a 200-hectare, privately owned latifundio. 206 laborers in the region organized a Land Committee, a Comite de Tierra, and fought for four years with the help of Mission Zamora to obtain the land. On April 7, 2002, after 120 hours of workshops about cooperatives, the Comite de Tierra became the cooperative Beveré. In this case, the workshops were given by an enterprise called Cecosesur. As with Pan y Amor, the number of members decreased; 65 people lasted through the workshops. They received the title to the land from the National Land Institute (INTI) on October 12th and on November 15th, entered the land. We were told that 42 members make up the cooperative today because, while people want land, they are not interested in the social organizing that accompanies it.

Outside of Caracas, we were able to witness an actual land takeover. 20 years ago, hundreds of families were pushed off the land when the landowner suddenly decided to take it back. He had done nothing productive with the land, so the residents organized to reclaim it, along with the surrounding land, and farm it. They were approved by INTI and we had the opportunity to partake in the celebration of entering the land. There we watched members of the community, aided by El Frente Nacional Campesino Ezequiel Zamora (The Ezequiel Zamora National Peasant Front) break the chains of the property to march onto the land that would be their new home and livelihood. These battles are not easy ones; it is important to know that since 2001, 241 rural activists have been murdered. One of the recipients of the land told us, “If we tried to do this ten years ago we would have been beaten by the cops.”

The Frente Campesino Ezequiel Zamora was an organization we heard a lot about. We met Braulio, a Frente leader, who we have been in touch with since returning to the U.S. In an email he wrote about the organization’s goals: “to form, organize and mobilize agrarian communities using and defending our laws that are fundamental tools; and to orient people collectively to eradicate Venezuelan bureaucracy.” Braulio wrote, “We also work in other countries and we belong to the worldwide organization, La Via Campesina. We believe in popular power and that the government only is in control when it is obeying the people.” This “lead by obeying” philosophy is a quintessential tenet of the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico. To witness separate campesino movements in Latin America operating on similar philosophical grounds gave us a lot of hope and helped us see that work being done in Venezuela has global scope and implications.

2. Institutions

Land reforms under previous presidents failed because there was no support for farmers once they received land. Newly created government institutions, like the missions and ministries, act as the supporting structure for the land reforms. I mentioned Mission Zamora and Mission Vuelvan Caras (now called Mission Che Guevara) in the section above. Mission Zamora’s goal is, according to government documents, to “reorganize the ownership and use of idle lands with agriculture to eradicate the latifundio” by aiding those interested in reclaiming land.

We visited a Mission Che Guevara in Quibor. This mission gives people scholarships, and often health and housing assistance while they take higher education classes in technology, management, history, and cooperative values. It focuses on the Social Production Enterprise (EPS) model, defined as “economic entities dedicated to the production of goods or services, in which work has its proper and authentic value, with no discrimination associated with any type of work, no privileges related to certain positions or hierarchies and with equality between its members, based on participative planning.”[4] Cooperatives are preferred by the state but not required. The Social Production Enterprises are part of a larger plan for endogenous development, another Venezuelan-coined term, which counters neo-liberal development. While neo-liberal development promotes privatization of services in order to profit transnational companies, endogenous development promotes socialized services and localized production, organized by and for the collective whole. The Che Guevara mission that we visited functioned as a community center, but there were also community members paid by the government who were giving workshops on baking, canning, sewing, electronic repair, wood shop, soldering, and tourism, in order to strengthen the local economy and generate employment.

The Ministry of Popular Power of Agriculture and Lands (MPPAT) is made up of four departments: INDER, FONDAS, CVA, and INIA. The National Institute for Rural Development, INDER, works on infrastructure and construction projects like irrigation, drainage, bridges, and roads. We saw their plaques on completed projects everywhere along the rural roads. The Socialist Agrarian Fund, FONDAS, assists farmers through micro lending at little to no interest. Pan y Amor, for example, needed a tractor and the government gave them credits to buy one. They aren’t required to begin payment on the tractor until the land begins to produce. If farmers receive such credits, they are often required to sell their goods to the Venezuelan Agrarian Corporation, CVA. This can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing because it offers a steady and fair buyer, in comparison to profiteering middlemen, but also leaves little space for independence and change. One of the CVA’s goals is to find markets for the products of small and medium farmers. In Quibor we visited a new plant that was comanaged by the government and workers from the community. They bought tomatoes, peppers, and onions from small and medium farmers in the region and made ketchup, salsa, and pasta sauce; they then sold these products to government subsidized food stores.[5] They are adding value to raw produce to develop food industries and create more jobs. A woman nervously approached us at the plant wanting to tell us something. She explained that before Chavez was elected, she worked as a migrant farm worker on latifundios, going wherever she could make enough to survive. She explained that as a single mother with three children, that kind of life was impossible, unbearable. Now she has steady work in one place. She threw her hands in the air and thanked Chavez for his compassion for the campesino. In 2008 the National Assembly allocated $379 million to a network of these “socialist” food producers. 21 agro-processing plants run by communities across Venezuela are currently coordinated by the CVA.[6]

The National Agriculture Research Institute, INIA, is particularly interesting to us. It is the participatory research branch that conducts studies and projects with farmers. If a farmer needs technical assistance, they can go to INIA and get it for free. Basil made contact with a team in the Merida office and went on several visits with them to the farms they work with. He explains that he was lucky in meeting this particular team (Angelica, Camilo, and Adrian) because they exhibit the amazing potential of INIA. We were introduced to Pan y Amor, a research plot in Zulia, and many small family farms in Pueblo del Sur. Pan y Amor struggled with their citrus production and asked INIA to help. INIA did this and more. Now with their help, the farmers are growing and studying the production of organic cocoa. Recently they started a new project of growing different varieties of yucca. The region is perfect for yucca production and the government, as a way to bolster internal production and processing of foods, is building a yucca-processing factory in the area. INIA is helping Pan y Amor conduct a yucca experiment on their land in preparation for this factory. The yucca grown there will be sold raw, but will also be processed into flour and a lubricant for oil drills. At the INIA research plot in Zulia, they are studying which varieties of plantains are more naturally resistant to pests and therefore require less chemical applications. This research was initially intended for a large plantation, but Beveré, the cooperative farm we visited in Tucani, was also benefiting from their research and was conducting a similar experiment on their land. In Pueblo del Sur, the INIA team is working with small family farms to study which grasses increase cows’ milk production. Angelica gave them the basic tools to conduct their own experiment to see which kind of grass made the cows produce the most milk. Each family ran its own experiment and by the end of a month, the cows were giving 5 litres of milk a day instead of 1. The goal of this experiment was not to increase milk production for commercial production, but to make sure small family farms remain self-subsistent. But the ability of small families to produce what they consume also has an impact on the amount of food the country needs to import.

The contact with small, rural farming operations provides opportunities for a very different kind of relationship between producer and researcher. There is a feeling of deep mutual respect. This is what is so significant about participatory research. A farmer told Basil, “Before, we only ever got help from scientists when they were writing their papers for school. They treated us poorly and only ever told us what we needed to do, never asking us what we needed help with.” We witnessed scientists encouraging producers to make sure their children went to school. The INIA researchers were always greeted more like family than professional associates. We also witnessed our friends at INIA spreading awareness about the opportunities that farmers have to organize to meet their needs. When one farmer complained about his irrigation difficulties, Angelica told him that he could get together with other farmers in the region, form a communal council[7] and apply for money to install more advanced irrigation infrastructure. After giving farmers seeds, Angelica explained that she wouldn’t give them anymore because the farmers need to be independent and claim the knowledge INIA is providing, like seed saving, as their own. This is in contrast to agricultural production since the Green Revolution, where seeds have been developed to terminate after a season, thus forcing farmers to rely on corporations like Monsanto to buy new seeds every year.

Anna met another team in the Merida office who was experimenting with a bacterium, as an ecological alternative to chemicals, to eliminate a butterfly larva that was killing the corn and cruciferous crop in the area. Another man named Javier was working with a strand of mushrooms called trichodherma harziaunum to kill mushrooms that were destroying broccoli, cauliflower, and potato crops.

3. Food Factories

Just as with land takeovers, there has been much organizing to take over important points of food production and distribution. We visited the town of Barlovento where family cooperatives grew cacao. The producers in the area understood that they were losing profit: they sold their cacao on the world market as a raw product and they bought back chocolate bars, the finished product, at a 100% price increase. They realized the importance of endogenous development and in 2004, the communal council[8] made a proposal to the government to build a cacao processing factory. The government approved the proposal and built a state of the art processing plant. The government and the communal council each owns 50% of the plant; however, the communal council has complete control over how the plant functions. The government can’t tell them what to do except to demand productivity.

The people of Barlovento are descendents of Africans who escaped the bondage of slavery. Their shared heritage has created a close-knit community. The people who work as farmers are often family members of those who work in the factory, and some people may do both. Because of this, there is close cooperation between the farms and the factory. Cacao is bought from small and medium farms at a fair price and surplus realized from factory production is reinvested in the whole system (from farming to processing) or divided equally between the farmers and factory workers.

Another example is the factory of the Italian multinational company Parmalat. When they abandoned their milk plant, the Venezuelan government bought it from them for $372 million. It is another example of a “socialist” producer supported by the CVA. It has the capacity to produce 1 million liters of milk per day, but currently, is only operating at 6% of its capacity.[9]

4. Subsidized food

Children all over the world “die because of illnesses that are practically always preventable and curable at a rate of over 30,000 per day, 21 per minute, and 10 every thirty seconds. In the South, the proportion of children suffering from malnutrition is upwards of 50% in quite a few countries, while, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a child who lives in the First World will consume the equivalent of what 50 children consume in an underdeveloped country throughout his or her life.” This statement was made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez at the opening of the seventh G-15 Summit on March 1, 2004. Mercal, PDVAL, comedores populares, and casas de alimentacion are all methods the government is using to stop hunger.[10]

In December 2002, Fedecámaras, Venezuela’s chamber of commerce, and PDVSA, the state-owned oil company called for what looked like a general strike, but was actually a lockout of employees. As in the United States Venezuela’s production and distribution of food was heavily controlled by international corporations. These food corporations supported the lockout, as an attempt to get Chavez out of office by creating instability in the country. This attempt of sabotage resulted in closed supermarkets, growing malnutrition, and food shortages across the country. On his television show, Aló Presidente, Chavez made clear how dangerous Venezuela’s lack of food sovereignty and vulnerability to the major food corporations was. Mission Mercal was created in response to this danger. It is a chain of government-subsidized grocery stores that sell meats, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, bread, cereal, pasta, rice, flours, tomato sauce, fruit, coffee, margarine, oil, sugar, and salt, all priced 39% below traditional supermarkets. They buy directly from Venezuelan producers or import what isn’t produced in Venezuela to eliminate the intermediary. The current goal is to buy 40% of food from small and medium local producers. They have also developed large storage spaces and distribution and transportation networks to combat food speculation, hoarding, and sabotage. The stores also provide jobs for the communities. Some Mercal stores, such as the one Katie went to in Monte Carmelo, are run by the community. They organized through their communal council to obtain money for the initial capital, and run it like community supported agriculture in the U.S., where customers receive packages of food weekly.

PDVAL markets, on the other hand, are run by the state oil company, PDVSA, and sell essential products at nationally regulated prices. They are mobile, smaller markets. We often saw PDVAL trucks selling to crowds of people in parking lots or plazas. Comedores Populares are popular cafeterias that offer large healthy lunches for five bolivars (about $2.50) or for free if you aren’t able to pay. Basil and I ate at one in Mérida and were pleasantly surprised. We saw men and women of different economic levels and classes all eating together. Casas de Alimentacion (basically soup kitchens) are community-run cafeterias that operate out of individual homes. Katie went to one in Palo Verde. She explained to me that women from the community used funds from their communal council to make lunch everyday for people who were in need. The government’s 14,000 Mercal stores and 6,000 soup kitchens comprise 22% of national food distribution currently. Per capita food consumption of Venezuelans has grown from 370 pounds of food per year in 1998 to 415 pounds per year now. The recommended amount of food that each person should consume per year is about 440 pounds. We in the U.S. average 1800 pounds per year.[11]

5. International trade of goods and knowledge

In the face of crippling free trade agreements enforced by the United States, Venezuela is working to make new alliances, based in mutual agreement and cooperation. In our visit to Beveré in Tucaní, we saw Veniran tractors that were made in Iran specifically for Venezuela. The plan is not just to import tractors from Iran, but to be capable of manufacturing tractors in Venezuela by acquiring necessary equipment and engineering skills to do so. Beveré also had a Cuban agronomist, veterinarian, and accountant stationed at their farm as a part of the agreement of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Chavez proposed ALBA in 2004 as an alternative to the U.S. proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic join Venezuela in ALBA. The Cubans stationed in Venezuela provide technical assistance but also teach cooperative theory. Cubans have also provided greenhouses to Venezuela in exchange for discounted oil. A regional farmers organization in Mucuchies, Produción Agroecologia Integral (PROINPA), was working with Universidad de Los Andes (ULA) scientists on a project on potato seeds. The construction of Cuban greenhouses was critical to the success of the project and Anna witnessed Cubans working with ULA scientists and PROINPA farmers to jumpstart the production of potatoes and protect the biodiversity of the potato seeds. In Caracas we saw a beautiful urban garden inspired by those in Cuba. The CVA has created five food factories (similar the tomato processing plant we saw in Quibor) through economic accords with Cuba, and has launched a corn processing plant in cooperation with Iran and Nicaragua. The cacao plant in Barlovento was also trying to utilize ALBA to trade its chocolate products within the region. PDVAL signed a 12-year milk importation contract with the Argentine dairy cooperative Sancor in order to provide food products that are currently scarce.[12]

6. Getting tough with agro industry

In 2004 President Chavez’s rhetoric towards big business agriculture surprised the international community. Upon receiving word from Via Campesina that Monsanto was going to plant 500,000 acres of transgenic soybeans, Chávez called for the termination of the project and declared that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are contrary to the interests and needs of the nation’s farmers and farm workers. In reaction, he ordered that the land that was to be used for the soybean planting be planted instead with yucca, a widely recognized indigenous crop. He also announced plans for a project to create indigenous seed banks in order to ensure availability, security, and diversity of seeds for peasants worldwide.[13]

Chavez was standing up to the corporation that produced Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, the bovine growth hormone rBGH, and the pesticide “glyphosate” which is used by the Colombian government against coca production and rebel groups. It has destroyed legitimate farms and natural areas like the Putomayo rainforest, and poses a direct threat to human health, including that of indigenous communities.[14] Sadly, Monsanto does continue to operate within Venezuela. This is because if an enterprise is productive, the government has not challenged their right to operate. That was obvious when we drove through a plantain latifundio in Zulia that stretched for miles and was owned by a large company that sprayed its fields by airplane. However, if your company is not conducting productive business, the government won’t hesitate to pounce. While we were in Venezuela Polar was found to be hoarding rice and Cargill was evading price controls on rice. The government took temporary administrative control of a Polar plant in Guárico state and expropriated Cargill rice plants for 90 days as a warning.

In 2003 the Venezuelan government set price controls on about 400 basic foods. Manufacturers claim that food shortages are occurring because the price controls have not kept up with inflation. The government argues that the fall of the U.S. dollar and speculation on the market is leading to the instability. Problems with hoarding and smuggling to Columbia have ensued, where manufacturers can turn a 300% profit.[15] Also, food manufacturers are evading the price controls by producing non-regulated foods and decreasing production. Anna was told, “Imagine you can’t find any milk, but you can find all the sour cream and yogurt you want.” Rice was a growing problem: the prices were rising and the shelves weren’t being restocked. As a result, in February 2009, Chavez ordered the military to temporarily take control of all the rice processing plants in the country and force them to produce at full capacity. Polar, Venezuela’s largest food processor, claimed that the regulated price of plain rice was below the cost of production, and therefore it was reasonable that 90% of the plant’s production was non-regulated, flavored rice. Polar also claimed that because of the shortage in raw materials, they could only operate at 50% capacity. The government claimed otherwise, saying they found two months’ worth of raw rice in the plant’s storage. In March 2009, Chavez set minimum production quotas for 12 basic foods that were subject to price controls, including white rice, cooking oil, coffee, sugar, powdered milk, cheese, and tomato sauce. He also has raised the regulated prices of another 10 basic foods; however, the regulated prices must stay current with inflation or corruption will continue.[16]

The battle continues: these private companies do not want to cooperate with the government and are more concerned with their profits than the wellbeing of the people. Let me note here that Cargill reported nearly $4 billion in net earnings in 2008, a 36% increase over the previous year, while the number of people suffering hunger worldwide increased to a record 923 million.[17]

7. Regional organizing through consejos comunals and the comuna

The following information is taken from Josh Lerner’s extensive article, “Communal Councils in Venezuela: Can 200 Families Revolutionize Democracy?” published in March 2007. We had a chance to meet Josh in Venezuela, where he was working in barrio Pueblo Nuevo in Mérida. He was a muchappreciated resource in our studies.

Since 2006, Venezuelan neighborhoods have been organizing themselves into communal councils, a form of participatory democracy where the community has the responsibility over decisions that affect them. Each urban council contains about 200-400 families, each rural council has at least 20 families, and each indigenous council is about 10 families. All decisions are to be made in citizen assemblies with a minimum of 10 percent of residents over age 15. These assemblies are to elect leadership, financial management, and monitoring committees, as well as committees based on local priorities (health, education, recreation, land, safety, etc.). Money is funneled to the communities that need it without corrupt government officials interfering. By law, communities can receive funds directly from the national, state, or city governments, from their own fundraising, or from donations. In turn, the councils can award grants for community projects or cooperatives. Officially, communal councils are to send project proposals directly to the Presidential Commission of Popular Power, which gives the go-ahead as long as they are legally valid. However, councils often send projects to their municipality for review first. Eight months after the law was passed, over 16,000 councils had already formed throughout the country. As of 2007, 300 communal banks were established, which have received $70 million in micro-loans. Thanks to these funds, the councils have implemented thousands of community projects, paving streets, creating sports fields, building medical centers, and constructing sewage and water systems. Some leaders have proposed that the councils replace city and state governments entirely, or work parallel to them.[18]

The comuna is a fairly new idea. It is a larger social network of communal councils and cooperatives that can combine resources to work on larger projects that benefit more people. Infrastructure committees from several communal councils might decide to work together to build new sewer systems or several communal banks may decide to co-lend start up capital for a cooperative that addresses a need like distributing food. The comuna, hopefully, will have more resources to invest in Social Production Enterprises that can generate employment and produce what the community is in need of, thus furthering endogenous development.

Agroislena is a Venezuelan based agrochemical corporation that has a very strong presence in certain areas of Venezuela. Mérida state is one of these areas and during our time in the Merida countryside, in Mucuchies, we saw many Agroislena “tiendas” or shops. For decades, small farmers in the region have depended on this company for most of their agricultural inputs such as seeds, herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. The agricultural areas suffer some of the most devastating rates of topsoil erosion in the world precisely because of the heavy reliance on chemical inputs that have historically exacerbated erosion issues. It is also important to state that a significant portion of the products sold at Agroislena stores are bought from U.S, European and Canadian multinational agribusinesses such as Cargill and Monsanto.

With the Chavez administration’s stated goals to promote locally based endogenous development around food production and distribution, and the local urgency to address the problems of chemical input dependence and subsequent erosion, locally based grassroots solutions have begun to emerge. The local production of organic alternatives to multinational chemicals serves as a very effective strategy for communities to pinch the markets of the large corporations. Maria Vicente is one of the community organizers and activists behind the initiative. She showed us the work of their communal council: new drip-irrigation systems that used less water than the sprinkler system they had before. She and some other women were also working to organize a cooperative trash pickup service that was quite comprehensive. Anti-litter posters hung up around the town and they had taught residents how to separate their trash from reusable materials. Food was separated for compost, which was in turn made into a worm fertilizer, hummus, and teas by the women. They had also set up childcare services for the children, which offered healthy meals and health care. Instead of chemical fertilizers or chicken manure (which was also imported from a different region of the country and caused contamination of the waterways), local producers were buying compost made by the women’s cooperative. The monetary price is a small fraction of the imported inputs, the compost does not contribute to erosion, and it is reported to be highly effective. It may make a nominal difference in the bottom line of agroindustrial companies, but the positive local impact is tangible and transformative. It is in the grassroots where the spirit of the Bolivarian revolution truly resides. With the sprouting of locally based solutions to local problems, the theoretical concept of sovereignty begins to take physical shape.

In Monte Carmelo some of us witnessed examples of really exciting community based organizing around food sovereignty issues. Irrigation and transportation infrastructure, organic, cooperative agriculture, regional networks of food producers and experiments with soil building worms and micro-rizomes are all examples of the activity in this small community. At the center of many of these projects is an amazing woman named Gaudi. Gaudi is acutely aware of the history of food in Venezuela. As a campesina, she has spent her life inside of an economy that has prioritized importation over local production. She has not only witnessed the slow and steady loss of local food autonomy, but she has suffered from it. For Gaudi, the seed is at the center of this story, and her work with seeds in the community has been extremely important, not only in encouraging the use of locally produced and adapted seeds, but in rescuing local awareness, identity and pride in that which is uniquely Venezuelan. In concert with the Lara state office of INIA, Gaudi and her community helped organize an annual festival dedicated to celebrating, honoring and sharing local seeds. The day of the campesina seed is now an official holiday in Monte Carmelo and its organizers hope that it spreads across the country.

When you visit Gaudi in her home, she will show you two things. She will show you a painted mural of Simon Bolivar, Venezuela’s liberator from Spanish rule, that hangs on her inside wall, and she will show you her seeds. Her collection is impressive, but what may be more impressive is that many homes in Monte Carmelo are also small banks of local seeds. Instead of relying on agricultural stores for their seeds, the people of Monte Carmelo are working towards food sovereignty by localizing their production, storage and distribution.

Here, we have included the Declaration of the Campesina Seed, which Gaudi wrote:

Declaration of the Campesina Seed

We, the campesino seeds, gathered in assembly with

the campesinos and campesinas of Monte Carmelo, declare:

That we are the nutritious hope of our people.

That for centuries we have filled stomachs,

pockets, marusas, bags, and granaries.

That we are part of the Venezuelan people,

because we are all together at breakfast, lunch, merienda and dinner.

That, besides being nourishment, we are also medicine

and happiness for the campesinos and campesinas.

That we create and give life when our love merges

with the love of the humble and unassuming people of the fields;

and that we love being grown as we were grown in the past,

without being mistreated.

That, despite the persecution and mistreatment we have received

from other seeds that are more powerful than us,

we are still curled up safely in Monte Carmelo.

That, with courage and bravery we have resisted the harshness

of herbicides and insecticides that have been spread over us.

That we are born from the womb of Mother Earth

and we cry with her because she’s damaged and unloved.

That we love being caressed by fresh water once we are sowed.

That we are friends of the insects, birds and microorganisms that

sing us songs of love and fertility

in the voice of patriotism and national identity.

For these reasons and many more we proclaim to the world:

That we need to unite with all the seeds in the world,

especially those in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That all of us seeds should organize ourselves in cooperatives

in order to defend our existence.

That those who aren’t familiar with us should get to know us,

so that they can help us reproduce and support us in our struggles for justice.

That the creation of indigenous Seed Banks

should be promoted in every Venezuelan village.

That love for us should be promoted in schools, high schools, universities

and all other centers of education.

That girls and boys should play with us when they are washing us for dinner.

That, as nourishment, we should never be missing

at the tables of any Venezuelans.

That the campesino seeds should be able to enjoy life

with men, women, boys, girls, and young people

in an environment free of contamination

by toxic agricultural substances and industrial waste;

and to avoid, by any means necessary, being displaced

by imported and transgenetic seeds;

and to be ourselves, with our own flavor, color and aroma.

The seeds of Monte Carmelo, together with their hardworking friends,

the faithful inhabitants of this village;

declare that this day, October 29th,

is the Day of the Campesino Seed

so that it will be celebrated

every year on this date in all of Venezuela,

with the respect and appropriate honors that signify

that this is a memorable a day for the Venezuelan people.

The authors recently spent three months studying in Venezuela with the academic program Building Economic and Social Justice of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Please see “The Food Sovereignty Movement in Venezuela, Part 2” for the continuation of the article.


[1] “Statement on People’s Food Sovereignty.” La Via Campesina: International Peasant Movement. 15 October 2008. [1]

[2] Wagner, Sarah. “Mercal: Reducing Poverty and Creating National Food Sovereignty in Venezuela.” Venezuela Analysis. 24 June 2005. 27 April 2009. [2]

[3] Wilpert, Gregory. “Land for People not for Profit in Venezuela.” Venezuela Analysis. 23 August 2005. 3 May 2009. [3]

[4] Howard, April. “Creating an Endogenous Development Culture in Venezuela.” UpsideDown World. 8 September 2008. 22 May 2009. [4]

[5] Gilbert, Chris and Cira Pascual Marquina. “A Leap Forward: Higher Education in the Bolivarian Revolution.” Venezuela Analysis. 27 November 2006. 24 May 2009. [5]

[6] Suggett, James. “Venezuelan Government’s Strategies for Confronting Food Supply Shortages.” Venezuela Analysis. 7 February 2008. 27 May 2009. [6]

[7] Márquez, Humberto. “Shortages, Speculation Amid Rising Consumption in Venezuela.” IPS. 16 February 2007. 1 June 2009. [7]

[8] Márquez, Humberto. “Shortages, Speculation Amid Rising Consumption in Venezuela.” IPS. 16 February 2007. 1 June 2009. [7]

[9] Carlson, Chris. “Chavez Announces Project to Combat Food Shortages in Venezuela.” Venezuela Analysis. 21 January 2008. 2 May 2009. [8]

[10] Chavez, Hugo. “Speech by President Hugo Chávez, at the opening of XII G-15 Summit.” Venezuela Analysis. 1 March 2004. 27 April 2009. [9]

[11] Wagner, Sarah. “Mercal: Reducing Poverty and Creating National Food Sovereignty in Venezuela.” Venezuela Analysis. 24 June 2005. 27 April 2009. [2]

[12] Suggett, James. “Venezuelan Government’s Strategies for Confronting Food Supply Shortages.” Venezuela Analysis. 7 February 2008. 27 May 2009. [6]

[13] Tockman, Jason. “Venezuela to Prohibit Transgenic Crops.” Venezuela Analysis. 21 April 2004. 26 April 2009. [10]

[14] “Monsanto.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 1 June 2009. 2 June 2009. [11]

[15] Suggett, James. “Venezuelan Government’s Strategies for Confronting Food Supply Shortages.” Venezuela Analysis. 7 February 2008. 27 May 2009. [6]

[16] Márquez, Humberto. “Shortages, Speculation Amid Rising Consumption in Venezuela.” IPS. 16 February 2007. 1 June 2009. [7]

[17] Suggett, James. “Venezuela Expropriates Cargill Rice Plant that Evaded Price Controls.” Venezuela Analysis. 5 March 2009. 23 May 2009. [12]

[18] Lerner, Josh. “Communal Councils in Venezuela: Can 200 Families Revolutionize Democracy?” Z Magazine. 6 March 2007. 5 May 2009. [13]


Michael Lebowitz: “It’s necessary to arm the people and develop militias from below”

On the question of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, Michael Lebowitz is one of the thinkers who has penetrated deepest into our process. He plunges his scrutinizing gaze, into its most diverse and conflicting issues, in order to then, calmly and forcefully reveal its truth with knifelike clarity. He talks like a peasant or a worker who dips into the reality that they experience, that they suffer and feel.

At the Centro Internacional Miranda, I had a chance to converse with Lebowitz, a professor from the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia (Canada).

Lebowitz is the author of outstanding books such as “Socialism does not fall from the sky” (much discussed by President Chávez) and “Build it now: Socialism for the 21st Century”. I do not hesitate to declare that Lebowitz is an essential light for us in the Bolivarian revolutionary process. Many problems and many concerns were raised in this interview and he responded to them with simple and accurate clarity. Here I present the first part.José Sant Roz – Aporrea

Sant Roz: We are concerned with the issue of socialism, but there is sometimes a big difference between what is said and what is done in reality.

Michael Lebowitz (ML): This is always going to be true. But the first thing we need to do is to create a vision and for this you need the words. There is an old saying that if you do not know where you want to go, any road will take you there, but no, this is not true; rather, if you do not know where you want to go, no road will take you there. And I think that in Venezuela, with the development of the concept of socialism for the 21st century, we know where we want to go. We don’t want to move towards a society in which the State directs everything. It should be a society where people develop themselves through their practice, through their protagonism.

This vision is clear and it is a vision that is very different from the experiences of socialism in the twentieth century. That is the first step, a very important step, but now we come to the crucial step: Understanding how this should be done in practice and how can we establish the institutions that allow people to develop. This is being developed now through the communal councils, workers councils, where people participate in making the decisions that affect them. The problem, though, is that it’s not so easy to do that when there are people who want to do everything for others from above. They say: we are going to create communal councils everywhere, communes everywhere. And if the people are not ready to develop their communal councils, they say we’ll do them ourselves.

Part of the problem is impatience that does not respect the process and the time that must elapse for people to develop themselves. Furthermore, there are people who are totally opposed to the idea that the people themselves make their own decisions. The clearest case can be seen with worker’s participation. There are people who believe that workers are unable, that they are not prepared, and that they don’t have the knowledge to make decisions affecting their work process. The result of this attitude that workers are not capable is reflected in the fact that electricity outages are occurring throughout all of Venezuela. The workers know what the problems are, but they have not been allowed to implement the solutions, to take the necessary steps to prevent such outages. Vision is important but it is not enough; it is not sufficient— struggle is always necessary.

ST: When you say that there are people who oppose this process are you also referring to people within Chavismo?

ML: Yes, of course, within chavismo. That’s why, for example, there is no worker’s participation at PDVSA.

ST: Simón Bolívar founded Gran Colombia on 17 December 1819, and died on 17 December 1830, and then this tremendous work he created with his great strength and will disappeared. What if Chavez were to disappear today?

ML: I think it would be a great loss, not only for Venezuela but for the whole world, because under the leadership of Chavez the hope that was lost has been restored, the hope that there is an alternative to neoliberalism. If such a thing occurred at this time it would be more than a loss, it would be a tragedy, because I think the process is not sufficiently developed that it could continue with leadership from below. Perhaps by 2020 there would be a possibility that the process could continue without Chavez. But right now NO.

ST: What can be done to ensure that there are substitutes that can take over the struggle from Chavez without much trauma?

ML: There are people working very close to Chavez, in his circle, who have Chavez’s ideas, his vision, his consciousness, but they lack the charisma of the President to lead. At the same time there are others that are much better known, but I’m not sure they share the project that President Chavez is leading. And today I am speaking very carefully, sometimes I say this very strongly and openly.

ST: With the oil situation, which remains our major export product, and in the face of the new global drama of high food prices, we find ourselves with a situation of abandonment in the countryside: how in a short period of time, could we structure a form of economy different from that of mono-production imposed on us by capitalism?

ML: Oil is not a problem but a blessing. There are many countries in the same situation where agriculture has been abandoned or has been more or less marginalized by transnational corporations. The existence of oil resources allows the Venezuelan State to take a part of this revenue to build infrastructure and create conditions in the countryside so that people feel they want to return to work in the countryside and see that it is possible to have a good life. With the food crisis it is absolutely essential to encourage people to go to live in the countryside. With oil revenues these conditions can be created. Compare this situation with the situation in Cuba where they also have problems with agricultural production, and where people are leaving the countryside, and they do not have the oil revenue to attract people back to the countryside. What appears to be happening in Cuba is that they are saying we will allow private property in agriculture [and thus attract people] and some people will make lots of money producing and selling food at great profit.

In Venezuela it is possible to use part of the oil wealth to create units of agricultural production in the countryside and to attract people, not through high incomes for producers but based on the quality of life that these people can enjoy living in the country. Agriculture has been an area where all attempts to build socialism have failed. The Soviet Union ignored agriculture and in some rural areas it was impossible to walk or drive on the roads. People had to bring products to market by air. China said that they would not follow the Soviet path, and would develop agriculture, but they didn’t. They were still extracting resources from the countryside for industry. So instead of what happened in other places where agriculture served industry, here in Venezuela, you can do the opposite: make oil serve agriculture.

ST: If the countryside is abandoned, it will require a long time to train people who want to do the jobs required by agriculture. People have changed a lot in the cities and it would be very difficult to convince them to be “peasant” farmers.

ML: Yes, it will take time. This is not going to happen overnight. But I think that President Chavez understands this problem. It is no coincidence that there are so many “Hello President” shows in rural cooperatives, in the new socialist farms. I think it’s a way of saying to people who are living in the hills and barrios and who are spending a lot of time trying to get to work, to say, look, it’s time for a change. There is much more you can do. In Brazil the MST [Movement of Landless Workers] has many young people, and when the MST occupies land, they gain land for these families to begin a new life. In Brazil the stereotype that all farmers are old is not true. Perhaps what is needed is to launch a campaign aimed at young people to facilitate this process of repopulation of the countryside.

ST: In view of the international situation: we are very threatened; how should we prepare ourselves to face a more critical situation in northern South America?

ML: I just finished a book that addresses an issue which is the problem of the old state that progressives have appropriated, and not necessarily by force. In the long run, socialism requires that the old state is replaced by the new, the state from below. The immediate situation requires, though, that the two states complement each other. The new state from below that helps people develop can not initially have a global vision. The old state, though, is in the habit of giving orders from above. What is essential is to develop the interaction between the two states and for a time you have to walk on two legs; and the same is true when it comes to preparing for a crisis of military intervention. That implies having a traditional army that can protect people, but we should also arm the people and develop the militias from below.

Translators Note – this is a slightly abridged translation of the first part of a three part interview with Michael Lebowitz carried out in late September.

Translated by Kiraz Janicke for

Workers’ Control – Theory and Experiences

Caracas, October 30, 2007: Produced as part of Centro Internacional Miranda’s Transformative Practice and Human Development, directed by Michael Lebowitz.

Courtesy: Socialist Project, Canada