[Marxism] Poor women mobilized for Chavez in referendum

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Dec 2 22:33:54 MST 2004

Poor Women Gave Chavez His Win in Venezuela 
Run Date: 09/06/04 
By Nicole Karsin
WeNews correspondent 


Poor Venezuelan women, thankful for the Cuban-style social
programs of President Hugo Chavez, have provided him with
crucial support. But the populist president is by no means
popular with all of the country's women.

CARACAS, Venezuela (WOMENSENEWS)--A few days after
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez won the mid-August
referendum recall, Juana Faria applied for a second loan at
the Women's Bank in downtown Caracas.

Standing inside the Venezuela's Women's Development Bank
here and clutching a manila folder full of documents, the
44-year-old single mother of three expressed confidence
about qualifying for this second loan--for $260--with which
she plans to legally register her business and hire two new
people to help with the distribution of the cakes and
yogurt that she makes in her kitchen and sells in her
neighborhood of Parroquia Recreo.

In 2002, when she first heard about the bank, however,
Faria was far less certain of her ability to qualify for
the first $260 credit, which helped her jump-start her
business by allowing her to buy a second-hand oven, cooking
wares and hire an employee to sell her goods.

But, after a series of workshops that help women devise the
business plans needed for the loan, Faria realized that
even though she had no collateral and no credit history,
she not only qualified, she was a prime borrower for the
Women's Development Bank.

Known in Spanish as BANMUJER, the Women's Development Bank
was created by Chavez' government in 2001 and has assisted
some 43,000 poor women without collateral, like Faria,
attain micro-credits for their micro enterprises.

"The loan of $500,000 Bolivares made a world of
difference," Faria said, referring with elation to the
first $260 credit. "Business is going fabulously and I have
so much work. I say no one in Caracas has to die of hunger
as long as we have Banmujer."

Chavez Wins Easily

With the loyal support of members of Venezuela's
impoverished majority, such as Faria, Chavez won Latin
America's first referendum to recall an elected leader on
Aug. 15 with a 16 percent margin of victory.

In an oil-rich country where 75 percent of the population
lives below the poverty line and 65 percent of the
households are run by single women, Chavez has built huge
popular support with Cuban-style social-welfare missions.

There is the literacy campaign known as "Mission Robinson,"
through which thousands of poor people are receiving adult
education. There is the free health and dental care
campaign, with services provided by Cuban doctors known as
"Rescuing Smiles." There have been programs that use oil
proceeds to subsidize supermarkets and women's centers that
attend to cases of domestic violence.

Most of the money for this populist so-called Bolivarian
revolution--named after Simon Bolivar who liberated South
America from Spain--comes from a $1.7 billion transfer from
the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela.

Street Vendor Lined Up for Chavez

Isel Ganado, a 51-year-old single mother of six, works as a
street vendor of undergarments and lives in the Caracas
slum of La Vega. As she stood in line on Aug. 15 to vote to
keep Chavez, she said she supported him because she has
benefited from all his programs.

"I had a second-grade education," she told Women's eNews,
"and don't have time for night school. But I go to the
center, near my house, for a couple hours each day and I'm
learning math."

Women such as Ganado have provided a crucial base of
support for Chavez. They have swarmed the streets at
crucial times during his presidency, standing for hours in
plazas and marching to protect him from numerous ouster
threats by an opposition force composed mainly of the
country's elite.

After a failed coup attempt against Chavez in April of
2002, thousands of poor women, many of them elderly,
swarmed the plaza in front of the Miraflores presidential
palace to demand his return. Two days before the August
referendum, as Chavez closed his campaign, thousands of
women once again gathered in front of the presidential
palace, wearing red T-shirts that said "No," against
removing Chavez, and chanting that "Chavez won't go."

Deep Divisions

But not all women in this country--deeply divided between
the "Chavistas" who support the populist president and
those who oppose him--agree that Chavez is their man.

In fact, during past three-years of anti-Chavez marches,
strikes, street violence, a brief coup in 2002 and a
combative signature drive to endorse the referendum, women
have often been at the forefront, charging Chavez with a
host of ills, from monopolizing television time with his
long speeches, causing unemployment and increasing street

Venezuela's 1999 Bolivarian constitution provides some
guarantees against sex discrimination. Under it, for
instance, housewives are entitled to social security. Women
in the opposition movement, however, say Chavez is a
communist dictator, leading Venezuela down a Cuban path.

"Look around," said 30-year-old Yennifer Salas, as she
cheered before the vote among hundreds of thousands of
anti-Chavez demonstrators in the wealthy uptown
neighborhood of Alta Mira, amid a sea of red, yellow and
blue Venezuelan flags. "Most of the people who come to
marches are women. For the first time, women are on the
frontlines of Venezuela's political battle," said the
Caracas lawyer who belongs to the legal group called the
"Defense of Women and Family Rights."

Speaking loudly to be heard above the chants about ousting
Chavez, Salas said that Venezuelan women have advanced
tremendously over the past couple decades and have assumed
more or less equality with men in the workplace.

But such progress was in no thanks to Chavez, according to
Salas, who declined to comment on the positive effects his
policies may have had for the country's impoverished women.

Jessica Godoy, a 24-year-old University graduate, who is
also anti-Chavez, said she couldn't get a job and blames
Chavez for the country's recession and his neglect of the
middle class.

Godoy, who has participated in at least 10 marches against
Chavez, said even though the opposition has not mentioned
women's rights as an issue, she feels her rights would be
more protected under their coalition of 27 political
parties, unions and business associations, which lack any
single leadership but are united in their anti-Chavez

"I have been beaten by Chavez' police while marching,"
Godoy said. "What kind of government resorts to beating
women and tear gassing them?"

"The only thing I can thank Chavez for is eliminating the
country's apathy, especially ours as women," said Godoy,
who plans to continue struggling and marching to remove

Nicole Karsin is a freelance journalist based in Bogota
Colombia. She has reported for the San Francisco Chronicle,
The Village Voice and Pacifica Radio's "Free Speech Radio
News, among others.

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