By Alberto Cruz
The Venezuelan political process, that people there describe as Bolivarian, is systematically demonized not just by the bourgeois media but also by some supposed progressives. They tend to focus more on the figure of Chavez than on what that deepening social change means for the great mass of people marginalised and oppressed since independence from the Spanish colonial centre so as to exalt the political, economic – and white – elite. The world is full of cases of dubious leadership – not so Chavez, consistently re-elected and supported by a broad swathe of the Venezuelan people – so the great imperial power and its allies are by no means upset when suspicions are thrown up about the Venezuelan President.
So what is going on then? Well, in Venezuela what is happening is nothing less than the hard expression of a class struggle where although, for the moment, the correlation of forces does not clearly favour the people, at least they enjoy a self-evident equilibrium with the oligarchy. And this struggle transcends the country itself, something capitalists all over the world have grasped, especially opinion makers writing out of preconceived prejudices and stereotypes and often from a clear class position stemming from neo-colonialist habits of mind.
Nobody discusses whether or not the Venezuelan process is rocking the world economic system, whether its victory throws doubt on neo-liberal globalization or whether – as leading US analysts like Alexander Cockburn of the Counterpunch alternative website think – it is helping more than anything else to undermine the world leadership of the US. An example of this last point came in recent days during the OPEC meeting in Riyadh (the Saudi Arabian capital). The mere suggestion by Venezuela that the oil cartel might look at whether the dollar should be a reference currency, given its increasing weakness, set off alarms everywhere.
It is since Chavez became President back in 1998 that OPEC has become one of Venezuelan foreign policy’s main concerns, firstly, by revitalizing a declining organization and by standardizing joint production to control the oil price per barrel. For the US and the West in general , US$30 is considered a correct price, without taking into account countries’ different extraction costs : from the cheapest for Saudi Arabia to the most costly for Iran. Venezuela is between the two, but considered that, on balance, a fair price for everyone was above US$50.
In the second place, Venezuela launched an internal campaign within OPEC to democratize the Development and Cooperation Fund (worth US$40bn) and to see that the fund did not depend exclusively on Saudi Arabia, which consistently put the management of that fund in the hands of US and European businesses. Venezuela won that battle, so now not only US and European firms manage the fund, but the OPEC countries themselves and other non-Western bloc companies from outside the oil cartel. One of the star projects of this new management regime now is its focus on social problems affecting OPEC countries, for example how to avoid desertification in the sources of the Niger river. Moves like this have led to Venezuela being accepted as an observer country to the Organization of African Unity.
But there is more. Venezuela is overturning traditional trade exchange by setting up organizations like Petrocaribe and fomenting barter between States. As Latin American analysts have noted, without Petrocaribe, the 16 member countries – impoverished, lacking infrastructure and dependent on international aid – would today, with the exception of Cuba and Venezuela, face a tragic, dead-end outlook with astronomical prices for oil and its derivatives, along with increased world food prices as a result of production geared to bio-fuels. The extent of the savings on these countries’ oil bills is already around US$450 million since they freed themselves from oil market intermediaries and speculators.
With barter (oil for Cuban doctors, for Argentine meat and ships, for Uruguayan milk and cheese etc.), Venezuela has started a direct exchange of goods that breaks World Trade Organization norms and hands weaker countries a bigger role when it comes to selling their produce and raw materials. Under "free market" rules, impoverished countries and raw materials producers always see their exports at the mercy of price fluctuations based not so much on demand as on the political interests of the big political-financial corporations. Only understanding this really explains the recent revolt by Southern countries during the WTO negotiations on agricultural matters, insisting the developed countries make fewer demands and on fair treatment not just with regard to prices but also to the losses they suffer through rich country subsidies to their own agricultural products, as in the case of the US, at the same time as they advocate absolute market freedom for everyone else.
As if all that were not enough, if Venezuela manages to set up the Bank of the South, it will make the International Monetary Fund something for the history books. The reorientation announced by the IMF, as well as its readiness not to impose loans conditioned on structural adjustment, but rather to be more flexible towards countries, would not have been possible without Venezuela as an important alternative source of finance, much less onerous than the IMF or the World Bank. Argentina’s economic success is owed in large part to Venezuelan economic aid, which allowed Kirchner’s government to follow policies outside the recommendations of the IMF.
The more or less radical left turn happening in Latin America following the Venezuelan example is a result of neoliberalism’s macro-economic failure which has enormously increased inequality and poverty for the great majority while the same old minority has become even more wealthy. The fact that certain social initiatives are now being launched, as during the recent Ibero-American Summit – is down to the processes described above. Without Venezuela’s "bad example" neither the Spanish government nor the Latin American ones now praised by the mass media would have moved in that direction.
Now one can hardly wait for these governments fighting Venezuela’s bad example to bring in a 6 hour working day; to recognise social property alongside public and private property; to ensure that public officials become subject to evaluation by means of public referendum halfway through their period, and dismissed if that is what people want; that they set up community councils and see to it that people in any municipality can formulate, execute and evaluate public policies adopted by the community with or without support from the municipal authorities. Some of these matters are included in the proposal for constitutional reform to be voted on this December 2nd. If it is approved it will reinforce long term social and political democratization, especially in foreign policy.
And that is what upsets the gurus of globalization, including the Spanish companies so warmly defended over the last few days. When these supposedly democracy-loving businessmen talk about "legal insecurity" in some countries and mention always Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, they do so from a neocolonial premise, criticizing the approval of laws in those countries by means of which those peoples win back control of their energy resources. The proposed changes in Venezuela’s constitutional reform reaffirm the recovery of the country’s wealth, although they receive scanting criticism from parts of the Venezuelan Left, at the same time they open up popular participation in ways unknown to most of the world, including Europe.
There is no attack in Venezuela against capitalism as such, but there is an effort to build an alternative in the sense of creating a society in which the explicit aim is not the growth of capital or of the material means of production but rather the development of human capital. So long as the Bolivarian movement was not building that alternative there were no important desertions from its right wing. Now there are, because the class struggle is deepening and everyone takes their side.
James Petras is quite right when he states, "The opposition coalition of the wealthy and privileged fear the constitutional reforms because these should hand a larger percentage of their benefits to the working class, they will lose their monopoly on market transactions – which will pass to public companies – and the political power they now enjoy will be displaced towards local community councils and towards the executive power. While the right wing and liberal media of Venezuela, Europe and the USA have invented shocking accusations against the "authoritarian" reforms, the truth is that the amendments offer a deeper and wider social democracy". That is the bad example Venezuela is giving, the bad example of the good left.
-Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and writer specializing in International Relations; he can be contacted at albercruz (at) eresmas.com (Translation tortilla con sal)
By Alberto Cruz