Friday, June 29, 2007

Up and Coming Crises Redux

About a month ago, I posted an entry on some pending problems and situations facing the Bolivarian Revolution. Here is an update.

1. The “Closing” of RCTV

Channel 2 remains the domain of TVES (Televisión Venezolana Social), on which I’ve been watching the Copa América. The issue has yet to split the Bolivarian base, as hoped for by the opposition, but it has witnessed the ostensible emergence of the children of the escuálidos as a “new” political force in the country (for the critique of the notion of ‘the’ student movement as ‘new’ see previous posts). The opposition has repeatedly emphasized the autonomy of the ‘students’ and claimed that the students represent a new pole in the fight against petro-fascism or whatever. This claim holds even less water now than it did in the past, especially after the scripted temper-tantrum by Oppo students on 17 June in the Assemblea Nacional (AN).

(I’ve written about this before, but the quick recap is that the students showed up when the president of the AN called their bluff and gave them the floor for a battle of ideas with Chavista student groups. The opposition students, in a moment of haute political theater, delivered one speech, changed from red to white shirts, and left the building, claiming that the battle of ideas’ proper place was in the streets, barrios, and universities – never mind the fact that if these kids showed up to most barrios in Caracas, they’d get eaten alive, and never mind the fact that they repeatedly explicitly asked for access to the AN. The death blow to opposition claims that ‘the student movement’ is autonomous from state department-funded parties like Primero Justicia arrived alongside the end of the symbolic currency of a student vanguard. After the escuáliditos left the building on national television, Bolivarian student Hector Rodríguez took the podium, thanked the assembled deputies, the television audience [the event was being carried on every station in the nation, by order of the government, further evidence that the government is stifling dissent…] and asked permission to read something. He then proceeded to read, word for word, the speech of the escualidito, including the cues as to when the speaker should do X symbolic gesture, and when to leave the AN. He then pointed out that the script he read had been left by the oppos, and that it was printed on the letterhead of ARS publicidad – a business within the empire of Globovisión, the 24-hour explicitly anti-Chavista news network.)

Now, the important thing to keep in mind here, is that this is the opposition we’re talking about, the Venezuelan opposition. In other words, we have left logic-landia. The opposition and their student wing continue to claim to be battling for ‘freedom of expression,’ continue to claim they are being repressed, and continue to look abroad for the support they lack at home. What is more – much like the Puente Llaguno massacre in the lead up to the coup of April 11, 2002 – many escuálidos refuse to admit these things happen.

In other words, while the daily intensity of the RCTVista students has certainly diminished, the (still failing) strategy behind them has yet to adapt to the reality on the ground. Rather, the students have become a sort of umbrella symbol for what the opposition wishes to be (mobilized), while in fact it only really points to what it is and was – rich, white, and stupid.

1.5 “Misión Vida” – or whatever

Julio “if you close RCTV blood will flow like borscht through the streets” Borges, director of Primero Justicia (PJ), has been trying to manipulate the ostensible ‘violence’ during the RCTVista student protests into a new campaign for his US-funded band of merry men.

(Brief history: Chávez was elected amidst the ashes of puntofijismo, the traditional two-party power sharing agreement which ruled Venezuela after the fall of Peréz-Jimenéz. The entirety of the existing political class was discredited, and Chávez, an outsider seeking to represent the historically-excluded majority of Venezuelans, faced all but no united opposition [even though it should be noted, traditional 'enemies' like AD, COPEI and MAS soon joined forces to fight the Bolivarians, which says something about the 'pluralism' and 'diversity' of Fourth Republic Democracy]. The opposition-void was quickly filled by the privately-owned media and by the US National Endowment for Democracy, which started pumping millions of dollars into 'citizen and voter education' Non-Governmental Organizations which eventually led to the founding of political parties such as Primero Justicia and the 2004 Recall Referendum umbrella group Súmate. However, the unity of the opposition has often been left wanting, with constant splinterings and offshoot parties forming [example: 2006 presidential candidate Manuel Rosales founded a new party, Un Nuevo Tiempo, which took away many key legislators, governors, and mayors -- including the mayor of Chacao (a bastion of Anti-Chavismo in Eastern Caracas -- Leopoldo López]. In the years since his first election, US intervention via funding, training and tactical support as well as the opposition's lack of unity and Chávez's increasingly majority support have remained the norm here)

EVEN THOUGH there have been more police officers wounded in the RCTVista protests than escuáliditos, Borges is arguing that the president is mis-using the already scant resources of the repressive state apparatus against the wrong people. PJ is attempting to rewrite the idea of ‘social justice’ by tapping into a very serious problem in Venezuela: the murder rate. To paraphrase a recent editorial, Borges claims that the police Chávez and his ilk are putting in the streets to repress the students SHOULD be used to do something about rampant crime.

However, rather than posing a serious counter proposal, PJ ‘proposes’ “Misión Vida,” a play on the Misiones of the Bolivarian Revolution that they yet to define. Apparently for PJ, ‘Misión Vida’ would not include the food, health care, education, or housing initiatives currently included in the Misiones but would rather include a massive increase in the number of police on the streets of Caracas and the other major cities of Venezuela.

As a few others have pointed out, this is shaping up to be yet another missed opportunity for the opposition. Many analysts argue that the reason (2006 presidential candidate) Manuel Rosales did as well as he did is an increasing popular concern over crime rates. For example, during the weekend, as in two days and Friday night, 55 people were murdered. The metropolitan police haven't recieved a raise in eight years, and in most parts of Caracas, even long time residents tell you the streets aren't safe after 9 or 10 o'clock. A semi-final match for the Copa América was moved from Caracas to Maricaibo due to 'safety concerns' (though, since no one has given me a satisfactory explanation for this, I still blame Guaky).

However, to just issue a snarky name in place of a ‘proposal’ with no sustenance WHILE opposing social programs which address the root causes of crime is ineffective at best and, well…par for the course.

1.5a (sorry for all these subsections) On Freedom of Speech

The entire discourse around murder and responses thereto is actually an interesting place to enter a discussion on the status of freedom of speech and expression in Venezuela today.

The Venezuelan media – and by this I mean the few but increasing number of media outlets which can’t be considered proxies for any actual opposition political party – regularly point out the failings of the government. Newspapers carry stories of barrios left untouched by the Bolivarian Revolution, publish denunciations by people who have been promised x, y or z development project or microloan but have yet to see the money, AND air the opinions of folks who regularly liken Chávez to the anti-christ and Chavistas to various racist caricatures. Eleazar Díaz Rangel, who has been a journalist for decades, wrote on Wednesday (27 June), the national day of the journalist:

“Those who speak of a lack of freedom of the press, who ask for the press’ liberty, ignore Venezuelan history and don’t know what censorship and restriction of this freedom actually is…”

He goes on to point out that under the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship (from 1952-1958), during which he began his career, news outlets were regularly shut down for failure to toe the official line. Numerous journalists were thrown in jail, persecuted and exiled for publishing unauthorized information, even and especially for failure to break such journalistic norms such as the sanctity of anonymous sources. Rangel also points out that during the puntofijismo years – the ‘democratic’ decades which followed the fall of Pérez Jiménez – any explicitly or implicitly leftist media outlet was severely restricted.

Aside from the fact that opposition claims of persecution are increasingly the South American equivalent of this scene from the Holy Grail:

concerns around freedom of expression from Eastern Caracas and Washington are furthered belied by the fact that the media here regularly – and substantively – criticizes the government. For example, Últimas Noticias daily publishes accounts of holes in government programs: inadequacies in Misión Hipolite’s staff (who works with homeless persons and drug addicts), the continuing fracas around the ‘Ojo de Agua’ relocation (a community promised ‘dignified housing’ by the government that remains stranded despite a few forced relocations), and the problems of El Ciprés (a rancho that is completely off the Caracas infrastructural and social-safety-net grid whose representatives were denied the opportunity to address Chávez about their problems by his guard.
[This story is especially telling in that Úlitimas Noticias published the story on a Sunday, and later that day Chávez brought it up during Álo Presidente, promising to send representatives there the following day to see what could be done to improve conditions in the area. The paper covered the arrival of the functionaries and, more importantly, the failure of promised doctors to travel to the area a few days later.
How do I know all this?
I read it in the bloody newspaper.
It seems to me that this sort of thing is far more damning criticism of a government – especially this government – than the racist taunts of the ‘opposition press.’
This is, also, precisely what would have not made it through the censors in the puntofijismo years AND, if you really still want to see racist cartoons of Chávez and his followers as well as gross misrepresentations of what is going on, there is still Globovisión…an attention they’ve been relishing.

(Globovisión Advertisment seen around Caracas and in newspapers. Globovisión has also taken to airing disclaimers before and/or after government sponsored commercials, claiming they are airing the government adverts under duress and in violation of the constitution)

2. “The food crisis”

Venezuela is in the midst of a food shortage. Kinda. The price of the basic food basket is increasing (as is the price of everything except for gas. A colleague fills his Range Rover for 4,000 Bolivars – or just under US $2.00) as is the scarcity of many items. Or so I keep hearing – I haven’t had much in the way of trouble, but I’m shopping for one. Hamburgers are still sold on every other street corner for about the price of a tank of gas (local) and the whiskey continues to flow (for some depressing, colonially-logical reason whiskey is more popular than rum among many many Venezuelans).

But here’s the kicker. Reports issued today indeed back up concerns around the availability and security of the ‘Cesta Basica’ but prove that the relative scarcity of certain staple items has more to do with a 30-40% increase in consumption than it does with the evil deeds of the government.

Unless you consider feeding more people an evil deed.

This nifty perspectival shift, however, doesn’t get us past the real stress food prices are causing. Nor will government plans to increase importation of various basic foodstuffs. Rather, the only thing that will avert the deepening of the food crisis is the establishment of food sovereignty. Without self-sufficiency, which Venezuela has been far from for decades before Chávez, the country will remain ever on the brink of a potentially major food crisis. The problem with this is that it is a long term, capital intensive development project that flies in the face of basically every global trend from urbanization to petrol-consumption by emerging powers. The government has repeatedly acknowledged this threat and this necessity, but also knows that the interim leaves it wide open to attacks from domestic opposition as well as the Empire.

3. Nationalization of the Orinco and the US

For a long time I’ve maintained that the likelihood of a US-Venezuelan war is rather low – especially if we’re talking about an Iraq-Afghanistan style invasion. There has certainly been an ongoing ‘soft’ conflict between the two, as the US has basically constructed the current Venezuelan opposition from the ashes of puntofijismo with NED money and been behind or just to the right of every attempt to derail the revolution to date, but the likelihood of an invasion has always seemed small. Too much trade money. And besides, the US has oil company embedded in Venezuela and Venezuela has Citgo in the states, right?

Well. Perhaps not any more.

Conoco and Exxon-Mobil have pulled out of their interests in the Orinco delta, unhappy with the renegotion offered to them by the Venezuelan government, just after the country’s heavy crude reserves were listed as among the most massive in the world. (interesting aside: The BBC’s coverage of the story was headlined “Venezuela oil loss put at $4.5bn” -- read on and you find that the story is about the loses to the companies and fail to point out that anyone might actually BENEFIT from a redistribution of oil money. Crazy, enit?)

Immediately thereafter, the US announced it is taking Citgo – the representative of PDVSA (the state-owned oil company) – to court for failure to comply with ENVIRONMENTAL regulations!

Is it just me, or is the idea of the Bush administration suddenly taking an interest in enforcing environmental regulations a bit dubious?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Intrigue at the Copa?

For those of you who missed the first two matches of the Copa América last night, Perú upset Uruguay 3-0 and Venezuela tied Bolivia 2-2.

How did they tie? COSPIRACY, I TELL YOU!!!!

First theory, Chávez said at the outset of the match, flanked by Evo Morales and Diego Maradona "Everyone is going to win, this is the people's cup" -- Obvious sign of a fix-to-come on the part of the tyrant in his tireless and satanic attempt to make us all the same.

Second theory (part one, linked to theory one) The magic transformation of a painfully obvious injury-time penalty in Bolivia's area (which should have given 'la Vinotino' a PK and a final chance to win it) into a goal kick could only be the work of the dictator's mandate.

Second theory (part two, unrelated), The referee is in the pay of the CIA. That is the only way to explain the call.

My students today told me that the ref must have forgotten where he was. San Cristobal, Táchira state (where the game was held) once witnessed an angry mob of fans set Caracas FC's bus on fire after a match that didn't go their way....
...the fact that he got away only reinforces the fact that he was in SOMEONE'S pocket...

United Socialist Party of Venezuela Enters New Phase

Here's a post stolen from on something i was literally just digging through the newspapers to write about. so thanks chris (who by the way has a blog titled 'gringo in venezuela'...oops. my bad).

By: Chris Carlson -

Mérida, June 25, 2007 (— The formation of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) entered its second phase this past weekend as officials and party militants met for the National Meeting of Candidates for PSUV Militants in Caracas. Record numbers of Venezuelans have registered to be members of the new party and the grassroots process continues with wide participation in the formation of what will soon be the unified party of the Bolivarian Revolution.

In a process that began last April, the formation of the new united party has entered a new phase after having registered 5.7 million people in just over one-month's time. Vice-president Jorge Rodriguez explained that the second phase will be characterized by the formation of more than twenty thousand assemblies across the country to debate and discuss the political program of the new party. Party members will then elect representatives across the country over the next few months to form the party's founding congress.

"Another battle is upon us and I have no doubt that we will come out victorious. I'm referring to the formation across national territory of more than 20,000 socialist battalions, made up of 300 (party) candidates each," said Rodriguez, explaining that the new phase has the purpose of "advancing the formation process and calling for the founding congress."

It will be the task of more than 25,000 party "promoters" to organize and hold the assemblies in communities across the country. But first the party's technical committee must swear in 9,000 more promoters in addition to the 16,000 existing promoters already sworn in by President Hugo Chavez himself. The promoters will receive courses starting next weekend about the methodology of the assemblies and will have the responsibility of locating the place to hold the assembly and informing the party members in the community.

According to plans, the socialist battalions will start to meet in community assemblies beginning on Saturday, July 21st, when President Chavez himself will attend his neighborhood assembly in central Caracas. Each battalion will hold a total of three community assemblies before electing a battalion spokesperson to participate in the elections for the founding congress that is expected to be convened in August and last for three months.

The Vice-president also explained that those registered to be members of the party must study and debate the topics related to the creation of the new party during the battalion assemblies.

"The battalions and candidates will discuss important topics for the process of the foundation of the party such as its structural basis and concepts like democracy, socialism, sovereignty, and anti-imperialism," he said.

And according to Rodriguez, the battalion assemblies should continue to work after the founding of the party as the new centers of debate for the millions of pro-Chavez party militants. These new community assemblies could possibly be converted into the new nuclei of political discussion inside the revolution after the formation of the PSUV is complete.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also spoke at the event in Caracas stressing the importance of the formation of the united party. In front of some 15,000 party militants, Chavez explained that one important reason for the united party was to consolidate the revolution and not rely on the leadership of only one man but rather make a party that can last forever.

"Human beings are transitory," he said. "The party must be eternal, the most powerful revolutionary motor."

Chavez recalled his recent visit to Havana and that Castro had explained why he (Castro) can die and the Cuban Revolution will continue. On the other hand, Castro apparently said that without Chavez the Venezuelan "revolution would be carried away in the wind."

"I realize that unfortunately he is right," said Chavez on Saturday. "If I die this revolution will be carried away in the wind because we don't have a party, a big political machine, a big political direction," he said.

Announcing the official registration numbers of the new party, Chavez celebrated the success of the party formation thus far. Due to the high participation in the party replacing 24 smaller pro-Chavez parties, the president assured it would be "the biggest party not only in Venezuelan history, but in all of Latin America."

"It will be a party of organized masses, of organized fronts, of mass movements, of big groups and of different political blocks," he said.

PSUV Registration Numbers

Participation in the formation process has been remarkably high. Of the 7.3 million people who voted for Hugo Chavez in last December's presidential elections, 5.7 million, nearly 80%, have already registered in the new party. Of the 5.7 million, 2.88 are men and 2.78 million are women, according to the numbers announced by Chavez.

The numbers also indicate that nearly one-third of those registered are younger than 30 years old, around 100,000 are only 18 years old, and more than 42,000 of the new members are over 80 years old. Chavez also is going to allow the entry of thousands of youth under the age of 18 after receiving a letter signed by thousands of teenagers asking for the right to join the new party.

Also among the millions of newly-registered are 285,000 housewives, 1.4 million laborers, and 745,000 professionals.

The states with the highest percentage of registered members are Apure, Cojedes, and Delta Amacuro where the number of registered members actually reached more than half of the total electorate. In Apure more people registered for the PSUV party than actually voted for President Chavez in the December elections. And in Cojedes the same amount as voted for Chavez in December also registered in the party.

Some of the lowest turnouts were in the states of Monagas, Nueva Esparta (Margarita), and Sucre where 78%, 64%, and 59% of those who voted for Chavez in December's elections have registered in the PSUV party.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fuck you Guaky!

Not for that night we were out drinking and you pushed me into a puddle.
Not for your tendency to tug shirts when you're playing defense.
Not because i think you might be one of the scariest mascots i've ever seen for a sporiting event.

Although Kaz, Ato and Nik of World Cup 2002 fame definitely give your parrot ass (or whatever you are) a run for your money.

Not even because you secretly want Brasil to win the cup.


Fuck you, Guaky, because tickets to the Caracas games for the Copa (all bloody 2 of them, which warrants you another gringo middle finger) are both nowhere to be found and 4 times their original price.

I was told today that, like all things Venezuelan, there are two stories as to why.

The opposition version:
The government bought up all the tix for officials and 'gifts.' The government bought 70% of the tix right at the outset of sales. They have a plot to make sure the entire stadium is full of red shirts and hats to fool the world that people in Venezuela like Chavez.

The Chavista version:
The government bought them up to give them to poor barrio children who otherwise wouldn't have been able to go.

Either way, I'll be drinking my beers and watching my games far, far away from you.

Which is better for you, trust me.

...Or Not...

Article 72 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (approved in 1999) begins:

All popularly elected offices and positions are revocable.
After half of the term for which the official was elected has passed, a number no less that twenty percent of the registered voters of the corresponding electorate can begin the process of revoking the official’s mandate.

It concludes,

…during their time in office, a functionary cannot be recalled more than once.

In 2004, the Venezuelan opposition was able to bring about a recall referendum against the president, Hugo Chávez Frías, which he won by a wide margin. (Margarita Lopez Maya notes that although the percentages voting for and against Chávez were roughly the same – 58.25% in favor and 41.74% against the Bolivarian revolution – the number of Venezuelans who turned out to vote had increased by more than a third. This signals two important things: first, that the revolution has mobilized more voters than any government in the history of Venezuela (for example, in December of 1989, just 10 months after the Caracazo, there was an official abstention rate of 55% in the off term elections). Second, it continues to polarize the population to roughly the same degree. (Though, it is worth noting, Chávez carried the 2006 elections with 63% of the votes).

A second round of recalls has just finished in Venezuela, this time taking aim at mayors, governors, local and national assembly members – all told, 167 officials faced the prospect of justifying their political existence to the electorate. Many of the officials with jobs on the line were Chavistas – or described themselves as Chavistas. However, this time the prime movers of the recalls were not escuálido organizations like Súmate (chief author of the 2004 adventure), but rather radical strains within Chavismo itself. This is, of course, why the recall is so important to the 1999 constitution, the construction of ‘21st Century Socialism,’ and the supplanting of representative by protagonistic democracy. The ability to recall serves as one more check on the opportunism and institutional inertia inherited from four decades of puntofijismo. That is to say, the purpose of the recall in Venezuelan democracy of the Fifth Republic is to keep elected officials directly and immediately accountable to the will of the people.

For radical Bolivarians the recalls of 2007 were a way to weed out ineffective and/or corrupt politicians (like, many contend, mayor of Libertador – a sector of Caracas – Freddy Bernal; or PODEMOS governor of Aragua Didalco Bolivar). Even better, or so the radical Chavistas contended, the recall would allow for the more middle class and reformist elements of the revolution, as well as fair-weather friends who have just been ‘following the money,’ to be swept out of power. (For example, given the intransigence of parties like PODEMOS and Patria Para Todos (PPT) to dissolve and join the PSUV and the resulting defection of their bases to the new party, many expected the recalls to bring about a definitive end to their existence).

So why didn’t anything happen?

The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) opened more than 1,570 voting centers, 3,664 voting stations, and 5,419 agents in every state of the nation. These centers and staffers were ostensibly there to collect signatures for stage one of the recall process, which determines whether or not enough registered voters want to go forward. This past Saturday, Sunday and Monday (June the 16th, 17th and 18th) the centers were open, staffed, and ready.

And they stayed that way all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday; but in nearly every voting center throughout the country, the preparation was all for not. In only nine of the 167 possible recall cases were enough signatures gathered to move to the next step of the referendum. In many cases, less than half the necessary signatures were gathered.

By Saturday evening accusations were flying from all sides of the political spectrum as to who and/or what is to blame. Popular electoral recall – constitutionally sanctified and approved by a majority of the population – seems to be one of the few issues on which Chavista and Opposition politicians can agree. Both sides do not and cannot dare to question the validity, value, and downright goodness of the institution. And likewise, both sides are scared to death of it.

More than a Conspiracy of Silence

One could be forgiven for thinking the recalls came and went without much popular participation because nobody knew they were occurring. The CNE finalized the lists of officials up for potential recall in the week immediately preceding the three-day signature gathering window. This has lead opposition parties and Bolivarian militants alike to claim the government intentionally sabotaged the process, since many of its own cadre were facing recall.

Perhaps. Should evidence of backroom dealing, intentional manipulation on the part of the electoral or executive branches, or anything else of the sort emerge, it would certainly add their list of ammunition for the spin-machine in their war against the Bolivarian Revolution.

But even more important is the fact that NO political party supported the recalls, even those opposition sectors which stood to possibly gain from the recalls they worked so hard to bring about in states like Anzoátegui. Thus, the opposition’s inevitable future claims of fraud and ‘authoritarian anti-democrat antichrist and etc’ lose a bit of their potency, by their own hands (again). It makes sense that the Chavistas – especially those who stood to lose their jobs – wouldn’t go out of their way to publicize the referendum. As for the opposition, their calculated silence betrays the weakness of their position in Venezuela today.

The opposition knew it couldn't pick up any seats, knew it faced the very real likelihood of facing more robust Chavista replacements for recalled officials, and knew that should the recalls fail, they could spin it into the 'Totalitarian Chavismo' file. In other words, they decided it is better to sleep with the devil you know. Underlying the political maneuvers of 'Chavistas' and opposition politicians alike, however, is a fear common to all politicians in liberal democracies of the population's direct expression and empowerment.

A few weeks ago I asked a student, a militant from the PCV, what he thought of the recalls. He responded that he thought they were a great thing, and proceeded to cite a long list of politicians from his home state who switched ranks from Acción Democratico (AD -- one of putofijista parties) to the MVR (Movimento Quinta Republica – the Fifth Republic Movement, Chavez’s party which brought about the end of the fourth republic with the new constitution of 1999) but have not changed their practice. They still line their pockets with tax money, extort favors and concessions, half-execute showy projects in order to gain short-term popularity, and will jump Chávez’s ship at the next opportunity. These are the people, echoed a newly elected member of a communal council in the ultra-Chavista barrio 23 de enero, have made the MVR just as bad as AD and COPEI in terms of corruption and inefficiency, and it’ll be good riddance to them when they’re gone.

Luis Augusto Zapata, militant Boliviarian and president of the National Integration and Participation Bloc, which was the principal promoter or recalls in the country and whose home state (Aragua) had the most officials up for potential recall, called the process a ‘fraud’ and encouraged all Venezuelans to boycott the process. On Friday, the day before the initiation of signatures, he argued that the CNE was orchestrating the re-legitimation of elected officials without the necessary – and constitutionally mandated – due process to make it a legitimate exercise of democracy.

(Of the nine mayors and legislators now up for recall, six are from the MVR or PPT, both Chavista parities at the time of the official-in-question’s election. Three are either from AD or independent ‘oppositionistas.’ Again, the majority of the push to recall officials came from within the more radical wings of the Bolivarian Revolution.)

Why (and How) Fraud?

I’ve been asking everyone I know about the referendum, what they think of the failed process, the extremely low turnout, their impact and significance at this current moment in Venezuelan political and social history. Explanations and opinions vary, here are the 3 most common groupings:

1. La sombra de la Lista Tascón

The first and predictable spin from the opposition to the failed referendum came from COPEI secretary general Luis Ignacio Planas, who argued participation was so (might we say puntofij-tastically?) dismal because the population was afraid to voice their disapproval publicly after the 2004 anti-Chávez referendum. The fiasco around the ‘Lista Tacsón’ (Tascón List) is enough, or so the argument goes, to stifle any genuine democratic practice under the dictatorship of Chávez and the Bolivarians.

The Tascón list is named after a MVR legislator from Táchira who published the names of anti-Chávez signatories on his website during the 2004 recall. In February of that year, Chávez called for the list to be made public to prevent fraud on the part of the recall’s proponents (considering the same folks had just instigated a coup and tanked the economy of the country during a 2 month long strike, as well as the dubious maneuvers of Súmate and other opposition movements in the lead up to the recall, one might forgive him for being more than a bit skeptical about their fidelity to democratic and legal methods…). Luis Tascón promptly published the list, including more than 2,400,000 names and identification numbers, which led to all manner of ‘purge’ and ‘political discrimination’ claims. In April of 2005, Chávez called for the list to be stored and buried.

The Tascón list, a rather popular piece of evidence of the government’s Big Brother-Baby Killer-Worse than Hitler nature, is an interesting political artifact. It has undoubtedly been used and continues to be used BOTH by Chavistas and Oppos as a political litmus test for everything from jobs at the bank to election judge posts. Chavistas see signatories as escuálidos, and escuálidos see non-signatories as godless communists or spineless nothings. Either way, the ostensibly buried list continues to play an active role in Venezuelan political life.

In other words, escuálido complaints about the list are made in bad faith. They use it for exactly the same purposes.

What's more, COPEI’s accusation also serves as a testament to the opposition’s lack of popular support. IF (and that is a pretty big if, methinks) people didn’t turn out to vote out of fear of La Lista Tascón Junior, it signals a rather significant lack of faith of the opposition’s ability to bring about regime-change. That is to say, since the opposition picture of human, and especially Venezuelan, nature is one of self-interested opportunists, who follow Chávez for the moment because they’re ‘following the money’ not speaking against him shows a certain degree of certainty of the revolution’s longevity. Or, it shows that they’d rather be in the good graces of Chávez than of COPEI and the like.

But like I said, I think this explanation is horseshit.

2. Planned Ineptitude and Democracy Fatigue

Many, though not all, are agreed on the fact that the CNE dropped the ball on this one. Many people simply did not know the recalls were occuring, or if they did, didn't have access to the information necessary to make a decision on the matter -- so effective was the media and party blactout.

The CNE announced the three-day ‘jornada’ on the week in which it was to take place. ‘Publicity’ consisted of lists published in newspapers – no TV commercials or street blitzes or anything one might expect for an institution changing-event. However, whereas opposition folks see this as the result of Chávez playing political puppeteer, at least one friend sees it as the distance between the bureaucratic sabotage of the Fourth Republic and the deep ('protagonist') democracy of the Fifth. So says a friend:

“When Chávez was up for recall, when we all knew it was bullshit, he demanded the polls be opened for five days rather than three, to allow as many people to vote as possible.”

He’s referring to the fact that many signatories of the 2004 referendum claimed that they were coerced into signing against Chávez – physically, through bribes, or through patron-client relations (still a rather prominent fact of Venezuelan political life) – which was common knowledge at the time. Chávez’ demand that the polls remain open even longer only gave the opposition more time to mobilize – by whatever means – voters to the polls. However, he wanted the process to be as open, inclusive, and exhaustive as possible – so that the people could speak.

The CNE’s ineptitude, to paraphrase the same friend, displays the institutional inertia that always stands against the radicalization of the status quo, which were the real stakes of the recalls. Thus, whereas Chávez and the Bolivarians want an open, direct, and constant democracy, the institutions they have inherited from the Fourth Republic want to manage the will of the people, to be ‘responsible’ and to keep their jobs.

Along these lines, fancy academic smarty-pants talk about Venezuela's ‘democracy fatigue.’ That is, Venezuela (enemy of freedom and danger to liberty and democracy) has had nearly constant elections and campaigns since 1998. Presidential elections, a constitutional assembly, National Assembly elections, communal council elections, presidential recall, another presidential election and YET ANOTHER recall for local and representative officials makes for a populace that just wants to go back to work and television; they’ve had enough of the polls. The underlying assumption here, of course, is that Venezuelans are either too stupid or too lazy to be 'responsible' democratic citizens. OR, just as common, the Chávez government expects too much of a people not properly trained for hyper-democracy after four decades of Puntofijismo.

Either way, this ‘fatigue’ combined with the general historical low turnout for non-presidential electoral events makes for a political culture prone to ‘misuse’ or completely miss the opportunity which just came and went this past weekend.

3.5. And Now?

The opposition mayor of Baruta (a rather posh district of Caracas), Henrique Capriles Radonski, called the recalls ‘a waste of time and money.’ Tarek William Saab, the Chavista governor of Anzoátegui, thinks something should be done to make those who bring erroneous recalls to the table reimburse the public for their folly. Both men were up for recall. Connection?

4. The big Conspiracy.

This is by far my favorite, and not even all that implausible. A recall in which Chavistas are put on the chopping block – i.e. where the government doesn’t just have a rubber stamp legislature and etc – would force the world to admit that Venezuela has a free political system, freedom of expression and a healthy democracy. The opposition knew they wouldn’t win the potentially vacant spots of outgoing Chavista mayors, governors, and assemblypersons, so they simply let them go on without their participation, hoping for a low turnout they could denounce in the future. This isn’t too far out there in that it fits into their contemporary strategy of putting all their eggs in the basket of international opinion and would actually make more political sense than many of their current escapades.

This is rather close to the position of José Vincent Rangel, former Vice President and perpetual ally of the revolution. The problem with this position, is that it puts all the blame on the opposition for not creating a culture of 'democratic opposition' and lets the CNE off the hook. I tend to agree with the fact that the opposition doesn't do much for democracy (looking back on their track record, the 2004 referendum was their FIRST attempt conduct themselves legally or with even a gesture towards democratic proclivities). But ignoring the CNE's and other 'official' roles in this weekend's failure glosses over the very real and necessary democratic struggle within the Bolivarian Revolution.

A slightly different, ‘harder,’ version of this thesis asserts that there were actual meetings at the regional level among functionaries of the various opposition parties and their Chavista counterparts where ‘gentlemen’s deals’ were struck. While this strikes me as unlikely, what is telling is the response of my friend to my raised eyebrows.

“They’re all really just ADecos anyway.”

That is to say, the MVR politicians up for recall are really just members of the AD along for the ride. Hence, to this Bolivarian militant, the idea of MVR elected officials meeting up with AD and Co for some backroom deals is nowhere out of the realm of possibility.

This is, then, the real kernel to pull out of the failed referendums of last weekend. Venezuela isn’t only polarized between Chavistas and Escuálidos, it is also, and perhaps more importantly, divided within the Chavista camp between ‘Chavistas’ and Bolivarians. That is to say, between those sectors who want a slight rearrangement – no doubt more equitable – of the spoils of this oil-rich nation, and those who want to build a new society. To paraphrase a well known Venezuelan poet, it is the difference between those who want a world where the poor can eat at the table of the rich, and a world where rich and poor no longer exist.

Friday, June 8, 2007

'The' student movement, RCTV, and class power

...the view from in front of the National Assembly 7 June, 2007...

Recent mobilizations by the students of Venezuela’s universities have prompted some commentators to label them a ‘new and powerful actor in the political life of the country,’ by which they of course mean a ‘new and powerful anti-Chavista force.’ Such pronouncements, while good for opinion pages and rhetorical gymnastics, fail to adequately grasp the nature, composition and direction of student movements (the multiplicity of movements often being lost on commentators as well) today in Venezuela. Even beyond the inevitable differences of opinion and analysis among fellow travelers of a particular movement, such pronouncements fail to acknowledge the emergence of the real ‘new’ student movement – the mobilizations in support of the government and the Bolivarian Revolution.

A bit of background is in order. Since the end of Radio Caracas Televisión’s (RCTV) concession on the 27th of last month, there have been near daily protests and marches in support of ‘freedom of expression’ on the streets of Caracas and throughout the country. The marches have for the most part been peaceful, though not without incident and have in the majority been organized by university students.

The students repeatedly claim that they are not political nor ‘golpistas’ and repeatedly call for ‘debate’ over ‘freedom of expression in Venezuela.’ The depth of their desire for debate was exemplified yesterday (7 June) when opposition students walked out of a debate between themselves and pro-Bolivarian student groups held at a normal session of the Asemblea National (AN). The opposition factions’ claims to an ostensible desire for open debate, as with their accusations that the entire debate was stacked against them by AN chairperson Cilia Flores only adds to the absurdity and contradiction of their various and sundry positions, considering the entire event came about all but at the behest of the student opposition.

For the sake of brevity, I will divide these contradictory positions into five general orienting myths of the opposition students:

Myth #1 “No somos golpistas, somos estudiantes”

While generalizing that the entirety of the opposition student protestors are coupmongerers is a bit of a stretch (at present, anyway), the assertion on their part that they are ‘not political’ is a stretch of a far greater magnitude in the opposite direction. They have attempted to march on the AN or Miraflores on more than one occasion, repeatedly make pronouncements concerning the status of the country and the necessity of a change of government, and openly associate their aims with those of the chief opposition parties – though they go to great lengths to emphasize their autonomy from the likes of Primeria Jusicia, Acción Democratica, Copei, and the like.

At its most elementary, i.e., the way any introductory course to political science would put it, is that their actions are political in that their chief aim is to bring about a change in governmental policy. To claim that such a position is not in fact ‘political’ only makes sense in the moral economy of neoliberalism which still holds sway over activists of the left and right alike. Within this framework, anything associated with the government or state is bad, and anything with the nebulous realm of ‘civil society’ is in the right.

More important than this rather feeble moral high ground is the fact that such positioning ostensibly keeps them out of the reach of responsibility for their actions AND attempts to position them outside the morally bankrupt traditional political class. In other words, through claiming autonomy from any ostensibly ‘political’ ends, they are attempting to mitigate the public (and more importantly, that of the government) perception of their role in the on-going attempts to destabilize the Bolivarian process on the part of the opposition and their friends abroad. While this might work for Fox news, CNN, and Condi Rice, it doesn’t fly here.

[Condi, by the by, just got body-slammed by the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolás Maduro at the annual meeting of the Organization of American States. Condi called for the formation of an OEA panel to investigate the status of ‘freedom of expression and other basic human rights in Venezuela.’ To this proposal, Maduro said that if the US is so concerned about human rights, perhaps it should spend more time getting out of Iraq, or deal with the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay like human beings, or stop protecting international terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles. To top things off, yesterday (June 7) the OEA voted to let Venezuela keep its chair on the human rights commision. AND Condi’s motion failed. Did that get covered in the US?]

The other tack, distancing themselves from politicians, is an attempt not to be covered by their stink. Most Venezuelans tend to think politicians are all self-interested scum (hence the popularity of Chávez and other outsiders). By presenting themselves as the untainted young faces of Venezuela, the students are attempting to, as has been the case with most opposition strategy, out Chávez Chávez.

The claims of autonomy and apolitical ends on the part of the students can in part be debunked anecdotally from an event last Friday. The students wanted to march on the AN, but their permit was denied by the mayor of that part of Caracas, Freddy Bernal (more on this in Myth #3). When, in the course of the march, they were turned away from the route to the AN for the final time, a group of parliamentarians met with them in a cathedral. The parliamentarians were of the party PODEMOS, once solidly in the Chavista bloc but now moving almost inevitably into the opposition camp, with their secretary general Ismael García’s criticism of the PSUV. García, when he accepted the demands of the students last Friday, said that his job as a politician is to serve as the voice of the people, even when he ‘doesn’t agree with them.’ Or this is at least what he said when he presented the demands to the AN on Monday – an event which quite possibly enabled the debate which the opposition students walked out of today.

The point of this is that the opposition students and PODEMOS, or at least García, are attempting to play political theater to make up for the lack of support. The students are walking a dangerous line at the forefront of opposition plans to produce a crisis in Venezuela that seeks a violent confrontation between ‘the people’ and ‘the government,’ and the eventual downfall of the Bolivarian revolution. García for his part is trying to save his political life by playing centrist man of the people and getting close (but not too close) to the ‘powerful new actor in Venezuelan political life’ as he watches his party base defect to the PSUV (inscription in which has now passed the 5.3 million mark. PODEMOS at present allegedly retains only 30% of its support base compared to its pre-2006 election rosters).

Myth #2: This is about freedom of expression

The opposition and their student representatives have mastered the old law of politicin’ that says ‘Never answer the question you were asked. Answer the question you wish you were asked.’ In other words, they are, with the dutiful help of governments and news agencies around the world, framing the issue in the Manichean terms of good civil liberties against a bad authoritarian government. Any attempts by Chavistas, anticapitalists, or critical minds in general to point out that the concentration of media power in the hands of one mega corporation (Grupo 1BC, and their president Marcel Granier) does not constitute ‘freedom of speech’ is dismissed as so much ‘communist rambling.’

Cloaking the issue in terms of freedom of expression makes it more palatable to the domestic and global market. In the process of doing so, it also seeks to naturalize the idea that the media somehow belongs to mega broadcasting conglomerates. It also sidesteps the issue of RCTV’s behavior (of which I’ve written on in past posts, so I’ll not go into this in depth at present).

More fundamentally and to the point, however, the opposition choice of ‘freedom of expression’ illuminates the wide division between their worldview and that of the Bolivarian revolution. According to the world the Bolivarians are trying to construct, the end of RCTV’s concession constitutes – in the words of one slogan – an ‘expression of freedom.’ That is to say, rather than the flimsy liberal value of being able to say ‘no’ when the government, or anyone else, says ‘yes,’ the Bolivarian process is constructing a more substantive idea of freedom, one more aligned with the development of human potential than with the choice of which commodity to buy or become.

The problem in terms of the really-existing class conflict playing out today relates to the question of who is willing to, or even of who can, understand each respective discourse. In terms of political efficacy, which strategy best serves the revolution, and which best serves the opposition? Is it more central for the revolution to temper its rhetoric to the (neo)liberal positions of the opposition, or to push forward, heightening the contradictions along the way and hence making the antagonisms of future conflicts more clear? In other words (and this is a debate I continue to have with a colleague of mine) is it even possible for the Bolivarians to ‘win the hearts and minds’ (or at least not create steadfast enemies) of those segemets of the middle classes that are at present relatively silent? Or, is it possible for the government to BOTH push forward the revolution AND make the oppositions students’ political theater less effective?

Either way, we’ve come a long way from a civil liberties issue for the ostensibly apolitical opposition student movement.

(those of you who will get it, already did.)

Myth #3: There is no freedom of expression in Venezuela
(or, more sympathetically, Freedom of expression is under attack in Venezuela today)

The request on the part of the opposition students to march to the AN last Friday was denied on grounds that another group had already requested to converge at that same location at the same time. Other than this, the students have been able to march without incident, and with the sanction and instruction of their administrators, for the last week and a half straight. (When they throw rocks at the police, they get tear-gassed. Under former regimes, they’d have faced a hell of a lot more than that. That was one of Chávez’s first public orders – seeing as how his rise to power has largely been facilitated by the aftermath of the 1989 Caracazo – that the police and military no longer have carte blanche when dealing with protestors and the like. This, of course, doesn’t stop the international press and Globovision from airing all the ‘See! See! Chávez is a bloody dictator! Footage they’ve been saving up for quite some time now. The fact that there are more police who have been hospitalized than students ought to point to the restraint being shown in these situations.)

The point is, this claim is practically not worth debunking, given the fact that the opposition has been given more leeway and more opportunity to say what they like in this country – even after they sponsored a coup – than anywhere else in the world. Globovision remains on the air, the major newspapers continue to publish anti-Chavez editorials and many have an in-house policy to spin everything against the government. Most importantly for their point, the students are given permits to march, to disrupt the flow of this impossibly crowded city AND are given disproportionate coverage by the media. They were even given the floor of the AN today, which they temper-tantrumed out of in hopes of further augmenting their position as the righteous victims of an unjust regime.

In short, the very utterance of the claim, especially in the venues in which they have been uttered, is its own debunking.

Myth #4: The student protestors represent the majority of Venezuelans

The student protestors, fitting into the opposition’s dreams of dividing the Chávez government from its base, supposedly represent the majority of Venezuela in that RCTV was the most popular stations in the country. It was the most consistently national channel and aired the most watched programming across the nation. Hence, or so the logic goes, the students are the representatives of the majority of Venezuelans.

Uh, no.

Perhaps the students have as much love for telenovelas as the population at large, but to call them representative of the population is a sort of logic that can only make sense in the Fourth Republic. The students taking to the streets to support RCTV are by and large white and upper-middle and upper class. They represent a sort of mythological cosmopolitanism that a minority of Venezuelans have tried to project onto themselves for quite some time that says 'we are Venezuela' by reducing all who don't look like them or enjoy the same socioeconomic status to obscurity, poverty, and silence. In such a light, their claim to represent the country's majority is not just unfounded, it is insulting.

Myth #5: The student protestors represent the future of Venezuela

A decided no. To be explained in the following section.

Universities: (still) Protecting class power

On the 24th of last month (May) President Chávez announced that the country will phase out the Prueba de Aptitud Académica by 2008, while simultaneously announcing plans for 28 new specialization schools (for everything from health science to fiscal studies) as well as 13 new centers of higher education to be created outside of the capital and the nation’s largest cities. The goal of these measures, he argued, is to put an end to “old methods which have previously been the source of corruption and exclusion.”

Put into context and taken together, these three acts point not only toward the deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution, but also to the historical role of Universities in the reproduction of class (and, pace Richard Gott in my previous post, racial) power in Venezuela.
(dare I suggest elsewhere?).
Historically, students have had to come to the city from the country in order to pursue higher learning, the cost of which – both directly in terms of living and classes and indirectly in terms of the lack of their help back home – often served as a barrier to their even thinking of attending college. Furthermore, the entry exams put students from richer families, who could afford better private schooling and conditions more conducive to learning.
(gee, maybe this is sounding familiar.)

In fact, the students of Venezuela’s major universities should not and cannot be considered a ‘new’ political force. They are only representing the interests of their class positions, a position with deep historical roots. Their organization and taking to the streets as footsoldiers only gives a new name to a demographic already well within the ranks of the opposition. Thus, they should not be considered the future of Venezuela, but rather its past.

“We are not socialists, we are social beings. We are not neoliberals, we are free. We are not the opposition, we have a proposition. We do not believe in authoritarianism nor in the hegemony of minorities nor majorities. We dream with a country where we can be heard without being the same.”
--Douglas Barrios, speaking for the opposition students at the AN on 7 June, 2007

Yesterday´s events at the AN illuminate the depth of the democratic nature of the opposition, and of the student opposition in particular. After repeatedly calling for a debate over freedom of expression, after repeatedly attempting to be heard at the AN and claiming that their rights are being trampled on by an authoritarian and centrist state, they refused to engage. After one speaker, from which the above quote is extracted, the opposition walked out and were escorted under heavily armed guard away from the AN. In a press conference later in the day, Stalin González – a student leader from the Universidad Central de Venezuela – reiterated the lie that the RCTVista students had never called for a debate. “At no moment have we called for a debate,” he said, “we brought a document [and asked to read it to the AN].”

For a group that has largely organized itself around the cause of pluralism and freedom of expression, this unilateral act of political theater exposes the flimsiness of their democratic credentials (photos in today´s Últimas Noticias depict the opposition students being whisked away to safety while holding signs reading ´freedom of expression,´ ´Pluralism,´ ´to express yourself is freedom,´ and ´Peace´.) They came to the AN, just as they have marched in the streets, neither to communicate nor to exchange ideas, but rather to make demands, to speak and be listened to, and to take advantage of a ready-made media spectacle. While this might seem like the rational comportment of any social movement in the history of struggles for political change – in whichever direction it might be oriented towards – the disingenuousness of the opposition students has only been emphasized at every juncture.

At that same press conference, González claimed that any debate over their demands ought to take place in the streets, student assemblies, and barrios of the country. The question, the multi-billion dollar question, is whether or not the spectacle being created by the students and the opposition press is going to work. Calling for debate in the streets and universities is a gesture towards the ´popularization´ of their cause (which, they continually assert, is not political, or at least is separate from opposition political parties) and again, a way of avoiding association with the undesirables housed in the AN. The strategy, according to a colleague, is to present themselves as clean-cut victims of an overbearing government. They know they cannot win over Chavistas or Bolivarianas. This is why their strategy vis-à-vis supporters of the government has been to irritate them into hasty reactions. By making the Chavistas behave poorly, the opposition and opposition students hope to add even more evidence to their claims of victimhood.

[an interesting example of this approach occurred yesterday as the opposition students arrived to the AN dressed in red shirts, much to the consternation of the assembled socialist student groups at the entrance. Once in the AN, the opposition students shed the Chavista red for an ostensibly neutral white. The Chavistas were furious at the gall of their opponents. The symbolic message was clear: now is the time to shed the complacent façade and join the struggle against the government.]

Thus, their cause is not to debate ideas (despite what they may have claimed in the past, when it was more convenient) but rather to activate those segments of the middle classes who are at present inert. Mid level bureaucrats, small business owners and the like who are ´going along with´ or (as the opposition hopes) simply tolerating the Bolivarian process will take to the streets with them in a semi-mass-based counterrevolutionary movement.

But will it work?

The organization of the opposition students has been surprising, and their media savvy has no doubt been aided by this particular cause. As many folks wiser than myself have noted in the past, the mere presentation of counterfactuals with a deeper grasp on reality does not guarantee a political victory.

The hope, however, of another opposition defeat is not unfounded.

The opposition and opposition media´s description of “THE student movement” as a new political force in Venezuela, on the other hand, is.

In a full page denunciation published in today´s (8 June) Últimas Noticias, a group of professors and students from UCV pointed out that, despite the opposition and media´s claims to the contrary, what we are seeing in the streets of Venezuela is decidedly NOT the emergence of a new, cohesive and all encompassing anti-Bolivarian student bloc. Despite the fact that adminstrators and not a few professors of the nation´s universities have sanctioned the student marches, there is a large section of the student body which supports the revolutionary process, the end of RCTV´s concession, and the government´s since. In their own words:

“We fully recognize that university authorities, like all citizens of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, have the right to express themselves, in voices or in writing or through whatever legal medium under the authorization of the constitution and laws of the Republic they so choose. (However, this does not include the presentation of their) political positions as representative of all members of the university community…
“As opposed to the university authorities and those who share their position, we students share the thesis that until this moment there has not been any real freedom of expression, communication, or information in Venezuela, because the media has been under the control of a small section of society. (Rather,) we think that there should be an opening of a new stage of true media and information democratization that coincides with the notion of democracy that covers all aspects of our constitution.”

This of course does not address the issue of whether or not the spectacle being produced by the opposition and the student opposition will attain its goals. What it does point to, however, is the continuing transforming constellation of forces in Venezuela. The students who took to the streets around the AN yesterday in support of the Bolivarian process are those who have historically been without a voice. They are the ones who 15 years ago would not be students, would not have the opportunity to become students. Hence, they are the truly new force in Venezuelan politics, beneficiaries of one aspect of the 'new geometry of power' developing at present. Their loyalty to Chávez is outstripped only by their distaste for the privileged students claiming to represent the whole of Venezuelan youth.

The likelihood of the opposition students chalking up a win for the larger opposition in terms of a return to the airwaves of RCTV is unlikely. And, as I have argued before, this isn't the point. Their aim, rather, is to produce a situation in which their version of 'the truth' which can agitate their latent fellow travellers into action.

Whether or not they can mobilize this population, and whether or not that will be enough to counter the momentum of the Bolivarian revolution and the passion of its newest cadres, remains to be seen.

The Battle Over the Media is About Race as Well as Class

as i am currently writing something on the topic of education, the opposition, and RCTV, i thought i would post this piece by Richard Gott, of Guardian and ´Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution´ fame.

Friday, Jun 08, 2007

By: Richard Gott - The Guardian

After 10 days of rival protests in the streets of Caracas, memories have been revived of earlier attempts to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution of Hugo Chávez, now in its ninth year. Street demonstrations, culminating in an attempted coup in 2002 and a prolonged lock-out at the national oil industry, once seemed the last resort of an opposition unable to make headway at the polls. Yet the current unrest is a feeble echo of those tumultuous events, and the political struggle takes place on a smaller canvas. Today's battle is for the hearts and minds of a younger generation confused by the upheavals of an uncharted revolutionary process.

University students from privileged backgrounds have been pitched against newly enfranchised young people from the impoverished shantytowns, beneficiaries of the increased oil royalties spent on higher education projects for the poor. These separate groups never meet, but both sides occupy their familiar battleground within the city, one in the leafy squares of eastern Caracas, the other in the narrow and teeming streets in the west. This symbolic battle will become ever more familiar in Latin America in the years ahead: rich against poor, white against brown and black, immigrant settlers against indigenous peoples, privileged minorities against the great mass of the population. History may have come to an end in other parts of the world, but in this continent historical processes are in full flood.

Ostensibly the argument is about the media, and the government's decision not to renew the broadcasting licence of a prominent station, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), and to hand its frequencies to a newly established state channel. What are the rights of commercial television channels? What are the responsibilities of those funded by the state? Where should the balance between them lie? Academic questions in Europe and the US, the debate in Latin America is loud and impassioned. Here there is little tradition of public broadcasting, and commercial stations often received their licence in the days of military rule.

The debate in Venezuela has less to do with the alleged absence of freedom of expression than with a perennially tricky issue locally referred to as "exclusion", a shorthand term for "race" and "racism". RCTV was not just a politically reactionary organisation which supported the 2002 coup attempt against a democratically elected government - it was also a white supremacist channel. Its staff and presenters, in a country largely of black and indigenous descent, were uniformly white, as were the protagonists of its soap operas and the advertisements it carried. It was "colonial" television, reflecting the desires and ambitions of an external power.

At the final, close-down party of RCTV last month, those most in view on the screen were long-haired and pulchritudinous young blondes. Such images make for excellent television watching by European and North American males, and these languorous blondes are indeed familiar figures from the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions in which the children of recent immigrants from Europe are invariably Venezuela's chief contenders. Yet their ubiquity on the screen prevented the channel from presenting a mirror to the society that it sought to serve or to entertain. To watch a Venezuelan commercial station (and several still survive) is to imagine that you have been transported to the US. Everything is based on a modern, urban and industrialised society, remote from the experience of most Venezuelans. Their programmes, argues Aristóbulo Istúriz, until recently Chávez's minister of education (and an Afro-Venezuelan), encourage racism, discrimination and exclusion.

The new state-funded channels (and there are several of them too, plus innumerable community radio stations) are doing something completely different, and unusual in the competitive world of commercial television. Their programmes look as though they are taking place in Venezuela, and they display the cross-section of the population to be seen on cross-country buses or on the Caracas metro. As in every country in the world, not everyone in Venezuela is a natural beauty. Many are old, ugly and fat. Today they are given a voice and a face on the television channels of the state. Many are deaf or hard of hearing. Now they have sign language interpretation on every programme. Many are inarticulate peasants. They too have their moment on the screen. Their immediate and dangerous struggle for land is not just being observed by a documentary film-maker from the city. They are being taught to make the films themselves.

Blanca Eekhout, the head of Vive TV, the government's cultural channel, launched two years ago, coined the slogan "Don't watch television, make it". Classes in film-making have been set up all over the country. Lil Rodríguez, an Afro-Venezuelan journalist and the boss of TVES, the channel that replaces RCTV, claims that it will become "a useful space for rescuing those values that other models of television always ignore, especially our Afro-heritage". With time, the excluded will find a voice within the mainstream.

Little of this is under discussion in the dialogue of the deaf on the streets of Caracas. For the protesting university students, the argument about the media is just one more stick with which to hit out against the ever-popular Chávez. Yet as they mourn the loss of their favourite soap operas, they are already aware that their eventual loss may be more substantial. As children of the oligarchy, they might have expected soon to run the country. Now fresh faces are emerging from the shantytowns to challenge them, a new class educating itself at speed and planning to seize their birthright.

Just a few weeks ago, Chávez outlined his plans for university reform, encouraging wider access and the development of a different curriculum. New colleges and technical institutes across the country will dilute the prestige of the older establishments, still the preserve of the wealthy, and the battle over the media will soon be submerged in a wider struggle for educational reform. Chávez takes no notice of the complaints and simply soldiers on, with the characteristics of an evangelical preacher: he urges people to lead moral lives, live simply and resist the lure of consumerism. He is embarked on a challenge to the established order that has long prevailed in Venezuela and throughout the rest of Latin America, hoping that the message of his cultural revolution will soon echo across the continent.

Richard Gott is the author of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution

Saturday, June 2, 2007

sabado, 2 junio 2007

The march this saturday was called in the name of 'freedom of speech and against imperialism.' The basic point being that the world is paying such attention to the RCTV fracas because of Venezuela's oil wealth and because Georgie doesn't like him. The banner reads "This isn't about RCTV, it is about our oil." The placard on the side of the truck: "Bush, take your hands off Venezuela!" Many Venezuelans are peeved (to put it mildly) that they are recieving special attention for what has been a constitutional, legal version of what his been carried out 'arbitrarily' throughout Latin America and the world without the moral condemnation of the US and other worthless jackass representatives of global capitalism.

The march started in three different locations, and all coagulated around Avenida Bolívar in front of Parque Central.


...during the speech by Chávez. There are 4 screens showing him speak receeding toward the horizon of the picture...
I have been told by two different sources, and both pro-Chavez, mind you, that this was one of the smaller marches in recent memory AND was over a million people.

Even before this weekend's march was announced as being 'anti-imperialist' the connection between international interests and meddling inthe sovereign affairs of Venezuela and the deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution has been well noted among the population.
This is a wheatpaste of the broadsheet 'contingency plan' published by the Frente Nacional Campesino de Ezekiel Zamora, orignially published in conjunction with the Colectivo Alexis Vive and other grassroots popular defense committes. Its title, Oligarchs Tremble! should be enough to let you know what it entails.

(members of the FNCEZ, rockin' their horses on a hot Caracas Saturday)

(we started with the contingent from Parque del Este, in the solidly Opposition district of Altamira. Over the past week, there have been violent opposition demonstrations here as well as throughout the larger Alcaldía of Chacao. The opposition mayor, Leopoldo Lopez, has publicly refused to do anything about the protests, calling them legal and inevitable. I can't help but recall the actions of Baruta mayor Capriles Radonski's actions during the 2002 coup, when he was among a mob assaulting the Cuban embassey. When asked by the ambassador to do something to guarantee his and his staff's safety, Radonski refused, saying the protestors were peaceful and legal.
He is currently being (re)tried for abuse of public office.