Peter Boyle from the Australian radical paper Green Left Weekly spoke in Auckland 9 December on his impressions of the revolutionary transformation of Venezuela. The meeting was hosted by RAM.
Peter arrived in Auckland straight from Venezuela where he has spent the past three weeks.
Below are notes taken from the meeting.
He was there for the elections which were won by the revolutionary United Socialist Party by a large majority.
This election had the biggest turnout ever, 65%, whereas the record previously was just 50% (voting is voluntary in Venezuela). The polls don’t close until there are no more voters and there were people lining up to vote until 11.30pm.
The United Socialist Party (PSUV) won 17 out of 27 governors, and combined with its allies won 6 million votes to the right-wing opposition’s four million votes. It was a resounding vote of confidence in the revolution. The opposition won a couple of key states which gave a boost to the right wing reaction, but the overall vote was conclusively in favour of the revolution.
Battalions of volunteers ran the election campaign. Each battalion was made up of 30 to 100 people and each person had 10 people to contact about the election. They’d fill up a book of these names and details then start on a new book. But it didn’t stop at polling day. Immediately after the election they got together to discuss the results and plan ahead.
Peter Boyle made it clear that he had no intention of overstating the development of the movement; he painted a frank and detailed picture of a society undergoing transformation in fits and starts.
He spoke of the changes taking place in education where nearly the whole population has gone back to school - from children up to 80 year olds. He met a 73 year old woman who had left school at primary level who was now completing her law degree. She will use her education to serve the people she says. There are around 100 Bolivarian universities set up that give the poor their first opportunity at tertiary education. In contrast the established universities are still bastions of the elite.
Health care has been transformed for the poor, and greatly assisted by Cuban doctors - who at one time numbered 30,000. Currently there are around 15,000 Cuban doctors who provide free health care 24 hours a day in small local clinics where they live. There are also bigger medical centres that provide diagnostic services (mostly run by Venezuelan doctors), and dentists - also from Cuba, who give dental care to masses for the first time ever.
Clean running water, good sewage systems and affordable housing are key advances being made. There is building going on everywhere and Chavez has joked that he doesn’t know why the West accuse him of being anti-private property when he has created more private home owners than ever before. Now people in poor working class districts can get low interest loans to buy their homes.
As well as these mass campaigns, there are around six communes which are pilot projects. These are aggregations of communal councils of which there are 1500 operating. These organisations are developing popular participatory democracy. These are the seeds of new democracy from below. One of the challenges is to get the youth to become activists. At the moment it is mostly middle aged women who are leading the charge. These people were never political before, have now become real agents of change.
There are security committees that replace the corrupt police who have been driven out of the barrios, and these new committees solve the problem of crime.
The question of how to organise the people living in slums - which comprise the biggest populations in the megacities today - is pivotal in Venezuela. The problem of criminal gangs is rife, and the way forward has been found to organise the mothers. Even the hardened gang members will listen to their mammas!
Every revolution has its enemies within and the wealthy are opposed to the transformations of the Bolivarian revolution. There are all sorts of ways they are trying to stymie the revolution, says Peter.
The army is being revolutionised and politicised, which is a very interesting experiment. There are also 1.5 million militias, although only 200,000 to 300,000 have received training.
For all the progress there is still a long way to go. But people are rising to the challenge.
The revolution in its tenth year now has been a combination of mass mobilisation on the ground and alliances and compromises in the parliamentary arena. More and more a mass revolutionary base is being developed.