Reading the coverage of the corporate press of the country, very few people would know that since the election of Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela in 1998, enormous changes have taken place in that country, transforming the lives of millions, including:
- the eradication of illiteracy after 1.5m people learnt to read and write in just two years
- the introduction of free education for all, with the number of university students trebling
- a free National Health System being introduced, which is estimated to have saved 240,000 lives.
- 4 million Venezuelans being lifted out of poverty since 1998 with poverty rates falling by half and extreme poverty by two-thirds
- The adoption of a new constitution and social policies that guarantee rights for women, indigenous and black communities and disabled people
- Measures to protect and extend workers’ rights, with the minimum wage now the highest in Latin America, with the privatisation and outsourcing of public services now illegal.
A Voice for Peace and Justice in the World
But Venezuela’s progressive role goes beyond social progress at home, it is also a leading voice for peace, justice plus non-alignment, seeking an end to neo-liberalism internationally and a new, multi-polar world order.
Examples of this include playing a leading role in both ALBA – a ‘bloc’ of progressive nations in the region such as Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua that is putting trade in a context of social development rather than private profit- helping them remove the ‘dead hand’ of debts to the West and bodies such as the IMF plus World Bank.
Additionally, President Chavez has been a vocal opponent of the adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya, recently arguing that "We know what's going to happen: bombs, bombs, war, more suffering for the people, [and] more death," when asked about the air strikes on that country. Venezuela is also a great friend of the Palestinian and Libyan people, and their quest for justice against Israel’s illegal occupations – for example, expelling the Israeli Ambassador during the bombardment of Gaza in 2009.
Lessons to be Learnt & Solidarity Needed!
Here, in Britain, and in many other places in Europe and the world, millions of people are looking for alternatives to the failed ‘solutions’ of cuts and privatisation. To these people, Venezuela can show that governments can put people first – despite the effects of the global recession, Venezuela has continued to both lift people out of poverty and expand their social spending!
Many lessons can be learnt from specific struggles and social programmes in that country, which is why so many are looking to it as a progressive beacon. Of course, equally as a leading critic of neo-liberalism and US imperialism, the Venezuelan Government has many enemies, both across the world and in Venezuela itself, including those worried about ‘the threat of a good example.
Venezuela’s government is still under constant attack from the former ruling elite who previously ran the country into the ground, and their allies on the hard right in the US who, following recent electoral gains, have regained confidence in calling for intervention and ‘regime change,’ with Republican Connie Mack recently arguing for the US to "confront Hugo Chavez directly."
Of course, the continual electoral victories (14 out of 15 national elections) of Chavez and his coalition (led by his own United Socialist Party, and including the Communist Party of Venezuela and others) does not alter their perspective in this one bit! Additionally, allies of the Venezuelan Opposition in the international media continue to propagate disinformation in an attempt to isolate the government internationally and prevent the truth about social progress from reaching a wider audience.
It is therefore vitally important in the run-up to 2012’s presidential elections in Venezuela that we continue to spread the truth and counter media misrepresentations. All who support social progress should show their solidarity by joining the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and attending our major event on April 16, which will bring together guests from Venezuela, elsewhere in Latin America, Europe and Britain to discuss not only what we can learn from Venezuela but what we can do to offer support.
The Venezuela: Defending the Majority, Not Punishing the Poorest Conference , supported by the TUC, and many others is on April 16 at Conway Hall, London, WC1R 4RL. Speakers include Venezuelan trade union leader Jacobo Torres, women’s leader Juana Garcia, a former Higher Education Minister Samuel Moncada, and Andreína Tarazón, youth and student leader of the Hugo Chavez-led PSUV political party.
You can register online and get more information at http://www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk/ or register by post by sending a £9 (£5 concession) cheque to ‘Venezuela Solidarity Campaign,’ c/o PO Box 56210, London, N4 4XH. The event is followed by a dinner and celebration of Venezuela at Bolivar Hall with live Latin music – contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.