[Marxism] Venezuela - The Country Of Parallels

Carl Webb carlwebb at gmail.com
Fri Aug 26 09:26:30 MDT 2005

ZNet | Venezuela
Venezuela - The Country Of Parallels 
by America Vera-Zavala ; May 12, 2005  

I - The parallel revolution 

On a parallel street, within walking distance from the presidential
palace, you can find a squatted building taken over and run by
communities. It is an old office building, very close to one of the
most touristic squares in downtown Caracas: Bellas Artes and the huge
hotel Hilton, which nowadays also hosts Bolivarian conferences and
friends of the revolution. A theatre rehearsal is the activity on the
Saturday afternoon when I visit the building. People of all ages are
represented on that main floor built to be a fancy reception and not a
centre for community activities.

The building was squatted one year ago, and apparently there seems to
be quite a few central squatted buildings, but no network exists
between them to serve you with more facts. This one has been
flourishing ever since it was taken over. In this building people
live, eat, make political and cultural meetings and most of the
campaigns the president has set off are functioning there. El proceso,
the process, as the revolution is popularly called is at work there.

The proclaimed Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela is a revolution made
up of parallels. To win elections is not the same as to take state
power and in Venezuela opposition still holds many posts in the
various departments, state owned companies and media, and control much
of the economy. The over cumbersome bureaucracy within the government
although not partisan, is slowing down the process as they go on doing
the way they always did, and they have not received an education in
new Bolivarian public management.

In fact a new Bolivarian Public Management School doesn't exist.
Leaders of the revolution; governors, mayors, ministers, officials,
bureaucrats, members of parliaments are persons that should be
executing the paragraphs in the constitution and making them real,
planning and organising the process, guaranteeing that the objectives
are met but for various reasons it doesn't seem to be working as
smoothly as it should. Together they constitute a thick middle layer
in society making change hard. The president's answer to that has been
parallelism - a political strategy not yet labelled. Parallelism is
being practised by the president as well as on a grassroots level -
the people.

An important part of what is actually being won in the process is
created through parallels. If the health sector in the country is not
willing to serve poor people - the president creates a parallel,
brings in hundreds of Cuban doctors and lets them work.

If the educational sector is working poorly and apparently has not
been fighting illiteracy - he creates a parallel, develops education
programs and makes the communities responsible for their functioning.

If the shops are not selling affordable food - he creates a parallel,
creates subsidised shops, and if people are still going hungry - he
creates another parallel, provide food and make the communities
responsible for cooking and sharing the meals.

And the parallels are working - soon illiteracy will be exterminated.
The left-wing theory of creating parallel powers to break down and end
the old order is here taken to new breathtaking heights.

President Chavez is not only creating a parallel bank, health and
education programs, and a parallel to the CNN - Telesur. There is even
a very popular soap opera, Amores de Barrio Adentro, (which is the
same name as the health program) about love over class boundaries set
in the political Venezuelan atmosphere - as a parallel to other soaps.

In the squatted building on the parallel street to the presidential
palace, the community run revolution is effective. "Here we have
mission Robinson and mission Ribas, people come here to learn how to
read and write, we coordinate the Cuban doctors and we provide food
for poor people. We also have Bolivarian circles, popular education
and cultural activities, like the theatre you saw. I am an educator,
and give courses on cooperatives. But we don't want anything to do
with political parties."

The man who shows me around in the community centre underlines that
they are not political. On the walls there are several Che Guevara
posters, Arafat's face with a message of a free Palestine, Bolivar the
liberator, and Chavez, of course. I smile and repeat: so you're not
political and nod at Che. "We are not political because we don't like
political parties", he insists.

After the No victory in the 2004 referendum Chavez proposed that all
campaign activists should become social activists. The people in the
occupied house have successfully taken on that transformation. "In
many places it has not worked, the electoral units have ceased to
exist, but here we work even harder" the man tells me. Some time ago
the squatted house faced a possible eviction. The municipality wanted
to do something else with the house. "We called for a big assembly, to
talk about the situation and decided to fight to stay, and until now
we are here, making the revolution", he says with pride.

The various parallels launched by the president are all dressed in
either a military language or named after historic personalities from
important moments in liberation struggle. You could divide them into
two main fields: electoral campaigns and social transformation

To win all elections he has had to trust the base. He set up parallel
actions to guarantee the votes from all those supporting the process,
but not being touched by traditional campaigns or possibly facing
harassments for being chavistas. The outcome has been a great success
every time and for the 2006 presidential election Chavez has set up
the goal of 10 million votes.

The social missions, misíones, could be divided into four main areas:
education, vocational training, health and nutrition. Misíon Robinson
is for basic education and is the weapon to erase illiteracy in the
country. Misíon Ribas prepares high school students for university
education. Misíon Vuelvan Caras is to train workers and prepare them
for future employment. Misión Barrio Adentro has taken in Cuban
doctors to serve in small community built clinics in the barrios, the
Venezuelan word for slums. Misíon Milagro (miracle) performs
operations on patients with cataract and glaucoma and makes people see
again. Mercal is the name for the subsidized food shops you find all
over the country. Another food program provides free food to barrios,
community members prepare it and give one cooked meal a day to
children, single mothers, pregnant women, elderly people etc.

All the missions are run by communities. They organise the set up of
the clinics, the education halls, recruit voluntary teachers, make
schedules and solve thousands of problems that come up. They do it on
voluntary basis and they reach out to many. The health program, Barrio
Adentro I, was launched in April 2003 and has already passed over 100
million consultations. People who have never seen a doctor in their
entire life before has now had multiple encounters.

The parallels and their effects are an important reason for the
massive popular support of the process. Interviewing a community
activist in the legendary neighbourhood 23 de Enero, I ask what he
thinks makes the process important: "The process has dignified people
and given us an opportunity to express what we think, without being
ashamed of ourselves. The Bolivarian revolution has also succeeded in
mobilising people, and making us feel that this process is ours, we
are co-responsible for it. If it doesn't work I am responsible for
that failure too. And we are included in education and health

People here know repression and exclusion; they have lived it on a
daily basis since the squatting of the newly built colourful modern
blocks on January 23rd 1958, the day the dictator, Perez Jimenez, was
overthrown. That was a time of mobilisation and popular democratic
aspirations, until the people were betrayed and the neighbourhood
repressed. This time there has been no treason.

On my way down from 23 de Enero I see a slogan, written big in red and
black on a wall: Al pasado no regresaremos jamás! We will never return
to the past! This seems to be very well rooted in people's minds. They
know things have changed, and to the better, that is why they are the
ones making the revolution real, but not without criticism.

The opposition in Venezuela is called escualidos, and that term has
been generalised to be used against anyone making the process
difficult. People want the elected politicians, mayors, governors and
officials to work properly for a common good and too often they see
things work in the bad old way, with corruption, positioning, and
meaningless fights over power. The parallels are the new tracks
created to go around the old ones - parallel lines never intersect. In
that way, you avoid confrontation in a country were opposition has
been violent and people need time to consolidate and build and not
only confront. But people are impatient to see the parallels become
the main tracks.

President Hugo Chavez is a phenomenon, not so much for 8 hour long
speeches which is rather old school, but for an amazing way of
directly communicating with the base. Somehow he avoids the thick
middle layer and puts forward the people's thoughts and ideas.

President Chavez is the initiator, the developer, the ideologist and
at the same time, the hardest criticiser of the process. The ideas he
refines and puts forward in speeches are thoughts being formulated at
the grassroots level. In the memorial speech three years after the
coup president Chavez said that what has to die has not yet died, and
what has to be born has not yet completed its naissance.

That is the core of the present Venezuelan parallelism - the old
tracks are still parallel with the new ways. A change of tracks is not
easy but it can be done. The squatted house is as close, or as far, as
the various government institutions are to the presidential palace. If
they are the ones stimulating the process maybe they should be
recognised as a community centre, fed with resources, and on the other
hand the institutions slowing down the process should be put on a


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