[Marxism] Hands Off Venezuela!

Dbachmozart at aol.com Dbachmozart at aol.com
Sun May 8 08:53:29 MDT 2005

May 5,  2005 
Denunciation  by Cliché
Is  Chavez's Venezuela Populist or Socialist?

"This is the first  government that cares for us" 
Resident of the  municipality of Libertador
Some in the US "left" are to be congratulated for their efforts to  highlight 
the positive changes in education, health care and land redistribution  that 
are occurring in Venezuela since the Bolivarian revolution. Unfortunately,  
following a cultural tradition of entitlement and righteousness, many US writers 
 are compelled to pass judgment on a Bolivarian process which they barely  
>From The Nation, Science and Society, to ZNET  (except the informative 
Venezuela Watch), many analysts excuse their endorsement  of the Bolivarian process 
with preemptive critical statements about Hugo  Chavez's putative 
"authoritarian tendencies". If Chavez were the authoritarian  firebrand of US commentators 
he would have already retaliated to the numerous  attacks to his presidency 
and person (death threats, a coup, constant slandering  by the media, a 
lock-out of the whole country, etc). But rather than retaliate  or jail opponents 
Chavez kept calm and won 8 elections in six years, including a  referendum last 
August where he got more than 60 per cent of the votes.  
Another common apologetic practice is to undermine  the socialist 
underpinnings of the Bolivarian process with the "populist" label  (see Steve Ellner in 
Science and Society, for example). Following cold war  habits, a major concern 
of the US left is still avoiding any association with  regimes that might be 
labeled "Communist". This is a self defeating strategy as  even moderate moves, 
by Scandinavian standards, towards a stronger welfare state  will be labeled 
as "Communist" (e.g., Guatemala's Arbenz in the fifties).  
Take for example Christian Parenti's leading  article for the Nation (April 
11 2005 issue). Parenti mislabels the current  political will of the 
Venezuelans as "Petro-populism" which suggests that they  are merely oil rich; thus, 
mischaracterizing the nature of their unique  commitment to social-democratic 
reforms such as Mision Barrio Adentro (Inside  the neighborhood). Also, contrary 
to Parenti's viewpoint, the Bolivarian  constitution is not committed to 
capitalism anymore than to socialism: it sees  the economic system as a means to 
improve the life of Venezuelans (see the  recent volume by Luis Salamanca and 
Roberto Viciano Pastor on the Bolivarian  Constitution for a detailed analysis). 
Furthermore, Parenti's characterization of the  Misiones (new government 
funded social programs) as "forcing" participatory  democracy on citizens is 
unkind and unfair: this process reflects how  Venezuelans decided to write their 
Constitution and organize their country. In  that sense, any government "forces" 
its citizens, one way or another. When a  writer relies on exemplars rather 
than surveys to describe the political  attitudes of a population, it is 
important to choose representative  individuals. 
In that sense, Parenti's examples should have been  more balanced: while the 
single "Chavista" in his article is portrayed as a  "sentimental housewife", 
the opposition journalist is portrayed as a politically  objective and mature 
democrat. In fact this "loyal" opposition that she  represents continues to 
undermine the government by such actions as making  threats to the life of 
government officials. Finally, Parenti complains about  the cold treatment he 
received at one ministry. But, is it fair to complain  when, in spite of being from 
the US, he still was allowed to interview a cabinet  minister and voice his 
Venezuela's achievements:  international socialist cooperation and 
participatory democracy in health  care 
While this kind of journalism proliferates, more  objective assessments do 
not find their way into the "left" media. Let's take  for example Mission Barrio 
Adentro (Inside the Neighborhood). Against the  recommendations of 
International Financial Institutions, Barrio Adentro is  designed to provide free health 
care to approximately 17.5 M Venezuelans (about  70% of the population) who 
previously lacked access. The program includes  participative management from 
community members (following Article 84 of the  1999 Constitution), and 
increase in ambulatories (more 300 already built up to  an expected 5000), and 
Medical Doctors living in the communities they serve (one  MD for 12500 residents). 
This program has been possible because of a  cooperative agreement between 
the Cuban and Venezuelan governments. Venezuelan  MDs did not want to practice 
medicine in poor neighborhoods. This is when a  Mayor of Caracas and Chavez 
envisioned a bold public health alternative. Between  April 03 and December 03, 
more than 10 000 Cuban MDs relocated to Venezuelan  neighborhoods to practice 
primary care. These doctors have at least 10 yrs of  post graduate experience 
and 2 yrs of experience in Integral Medicine (which  sees health as a social 
outcome including housing, education, sports,  environment, and food security). 
They perform between 20 and 40 visits every  morning plus family visits in the 
afternoon, in addition to numerous prevention  activities. Thus, operating as 
a separate health care system Barrio Adentro MDs  conducted close to 80 
Million visits reaching the whole 23 states while the  former system achieved only 
20 Million, with limited geographical outreach.  
In addition, following article 84 of the  Bolivarian Constitution, Barrio 
Adentro is run under the principles of  participatory democracy. Local committees 
(Comites de Salud) chosen by neighbors  have the power to directly contact 
local and federal governments to demand new  or improved services for their 
communities. For example, during visits Cuban MDs  and neighbors might realize 
that residents are in need to literacy courses,  dentistry, removal of 
environmental hazards, thus contacting the appropriate  branches of the government to 
obtain those services. 
A recommendation for US  analysts 
The bottom line is thus simple. Given the recent  history of interference of 
our country with Venezuelan politics (see Otto  Reich's piece in the April 
issue of National Review for a chilling example),  writers on the left can help 
the Bolivarian process with objective reporting or  humble supportive analyses. 
Or they can leave Venezuelans alone. They will do  just fine. 
Carles Muntaner MD, PhD is a social epidemiologist at the University of 
Maryland, US.  He is currently a health policy advisor to the Ministry of Health 
and Social  Development of the Bolivarian Republic of  Venezuela.

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