Category Archives: Venezuela

Ecuador and Venezuela: Danger South of the Border

by Paul Kellogg
It is not difficult to see that the events of September 30, in the Latin American country of Ecuador, amounted to an attempted right-wing coup d’état. Mass mobilizations in the streets and plazas of Quito (the capital) and other cities – in conjunction with action by sections of the armed forces which stayed loyal to the government – stopped the coup before the day was out. But those few hours highlighted, again, the deep dangers facing those fighting for progressive change in Latin America and the Caribbean. Continue reading

Preparing a new International: ‘Anti-imperialism should be the common element that brings us all together’

A LeftViews interview with Julio Chávez
Julio Chávez is a member of the international committee of the congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which is charged with drafting a specific plan of action to form a new socialist international. He was interviewed by Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes. Continue reading

Chavez’s Historic Call for International Socialist Unity

by Federico Fuentes
(Caracas, November 27, 2009) Addressing delegates at the International Encounter of Left Parties held in Caracas, November 19-21, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that with the capitalist crisis and threat of war risking the future of humanity, “the people are clamoring” for greater unity of those willing to fight for socialism. Continue reading

Venezuela: Class struggle intensifies over battle for workers’ control

By Federico Fuentes (Caracas) On July 22, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez again declared his complete support for the proposal by industrial workers for a new model of production based on workers’ control. This push from Chavez, part of the socialist revolution, aims at transforming Venezuela’s basic industry. However, it faces resistance from within the state bureaucracy and the revolutionary movement. Continue reading

21st Century Socialism on the Move – Reflections on ‘The Path to Human Development’

By Ivan Drury. Within an otherwise bleak reality of capitalist crisis, Mike Lebowitz has provided us with an eloquent restatement of the case for socialism – The Path to Human Development: Capitalism or Socialism? This short text is now circulating widely in Venezuela, in Spanish, as a pocket-sized pamphlet, has been published in Monthly Review, and is about to be published in Canada in pamphlet format by Socialist Project. Continue reading

Taking Stock of the Bolivarian Revolution: Changing Venezuela by Taking Power

By Derrick O’Keefe. Gregory Wilpert has pulled off a triumph on two fronts with his new book on the Bolivarian Revolution, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso, 2007). Most obviously, Wilpert’s book — in both its scope and (sometimes almost maddening) objectivity — is the most detailed and credible analysis yet published of the Venezuelan revolution, which itself represents, arguably, the single most significant challenge today to the hegemony of global capitalism. Continue reading

The Foundation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)

By Carlos Torchia

Carlos Torchia is a member of the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition and the New Socialist Group.

During the last 15 years the Venezuelan people have greatly contributed to the struggle against capitalism and for a just society.

Firstly, the Bolivarian revolution has shown to the people of the world that it is possible to challenge neoliberalism, which has devastated the lives of millions not only in the Third World but also in the countries of the centre, and to successfully confront imperialism

Secondly, the Bolivarian revolution has restored the idea that socialism is needed to replace savage capitalism, which is threatening to annihilate humankind. The project “Socialism for the 21st Century” is beginning to resonate not only in Venezuela and Latin America but everywhere that people face exploitation, hunger and environmental degradation. The Venezuelan revolution has challenged the reactionary Margaret Thatcher’s slogan TINA (There Is No Alternative – to capitalism).

Thirdly, the foundation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) should be a key instrument not only for the Venezuelan revolution but also an asset for all of us. Why?

  1. The idea of a revolutionary party has been discredited by the negative experience of the Communist parties in building the so-called “real socialism” or state socialism in the former USSR. Non-democratic and bureaucratic socialism was built upon the image and likeness of the party. On the other hand we have witnessed the bankruptcy of the Social Democratic parties, which have renounced the idea of socialism, embracing neoliberalism. The victory of the socialist revolution in Venezuela and other countries needs the presence of a democratic revolutionary party, which should not substitute for the initiative of the people but rather accompany it in building the new society. The foundation of the PSUV is intended as a step in this direction.
  2. The foundation Congress of the PSUV seems to have taken into account the experience of the Worker’s Party of Brazil (PT), which became a loose organization formed of various factions, which were in fact parties within the party. In the PT, the party leadership was divorced from its militants and the Brazilian people and had a free hand to move the party to the right, accepting neoliberalism as the only game in town. This type of party cannot be the instrument to help the masses to overthrow capitalism.
  3. The anti neoliberal rebellions in Latin America, in Argentina in 2000-2002, and in Bolivia 2002 and 2005, scored formidable victories over the ruling classes, victories that paralysed their countries and expelled several presidents from office. Yet in the end the social movements were unable to unify all the segmented struggles in one national alternative to overthrow the rule of the capitalist class. This unifying tool, the revolutionary party of the oppressed, was absent in the case of the anti-neoliberal rebellions in Argentina and Bolivia.

The foundation congress of the PSUV

The foundation of the PSUV is a significant step in the task of giving a unified direction to the Venezuelan people in the struggle of resolve the contradiction between capitalism and socialism. That is why a number of different socialist tendencies decided to join the new party.

President Hugo Chávez sensing this urgency, proclaimed: “The PSUV is born, destined to make history.” Assessing the Congress outcome, Chávez said that the foundation of the Party signifies a “revolution within the revolution… [The party] fundamental role is to be…the biggest guarantee of [the revolution’s] permanence”.[1]

President Chávez called for the creation of the party on December 15, 2006, to unify the revolutionary forces in the country and to integrate in one body the heterogeneous electoral movement that had supported him from the beginning. From April to June 2007, some 5.7 million Venezuelans responded to Chávez’s call to support this party. This was an astonishing development in a country that had no tradition of popular political participation in mass parties, a country in which for 50 years the masses had been excluded from politics that was only the privilege of the elites. This massive response constituted a great achievement of the Bolivarian revolution, at time when in the so-called western democracies people reject participation in party politics.

Cells of 300 or more people formed a local battalion. Seven to 12 battalions in a district came together to form socialist circumscriptions or districts (or communes). From these districts 1,674 delegates to the founding congress were elected.

It can be said that the party was being founded from below, even though the initial call was issued from above.

The congress sessions were held from January to March 2008. There was a democratic and tense exchange in the discussion of key documents such as the declaration of principles, program and statutes. The congress was a battleground as delegates representing grass roots organizations seeking to deepen the process confronted the bureaucratic and right-wing sectors seeking to put a brake to the revolution. In the end these right-wing forces suffered a setback.

The congress approved a clear anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist platform. The right-wing delegates had wanted to eliminate the anti-capitalist stance.

The program discussed by the congress affirmed that

“the aim is to move towards a communal state socialism, with the strategic objective of totally neutralizing the law of value within the functioning of the economy… [The objective] is to end poverty, giving power to the poor… the people… [to] build a government based on Councils of Popular Power, where workers, peasants, students and popular masses are direct protagonists in the exercising of political power… [promoting] democracy and an assembly-based culture within the party and in all spheres where it is present (communities, work fronts, areas of study, activity etc.)… [to] struggle to make self-government a reality [in] cities, communal councils and communes as the basic political units…”[2]

Tensions appeared also with regard to democratic participation, transparency and the way the congress was conducted, specifically in regard of the election of the leadership. Some delegates said that it was necessary to “profoundly revise the internal processes that during the founding congress have unfolded…[3]

A heated discussion was also held on the subject of corruption and bureaucracy. In this respect a strong paragraph was included in the declaration of principles: “The inefficiency in the exercise of public power, bureaucratism, the low level of participation of the people in the control and management of government, corruption and widening gap between the people and government, threaten to undermine the trust that the people have placed in the Bolivarian revolution.”

According to General Alberto Muller Rojas, a close ally of President Chávez and one of the party vice-presidents, bureaucratism is the most significant enemy of the revolution, even more dangerous than the imperialist and right wing threats, because tends to create a new class that makes party life (and society) much more rigid. This was exactly what happened in the former USSR.

PSUV Leadership

The great diversity of the party was reflected in the composition of the elected leadership: afro-descendents, indigenous, whites, and youth with a variety of different political positions. The leadership, which was elected for a one-year term, consists mainly of cadres that supported President Chávez from the beginning of the revolutionary process. The elected leadership represents a happy medium between the most radical delegates and the moderate ones. Hugo Chávez was elected president of the PSUV.

The party is rich in currents and tendencies, although they do not constitute factions. (This should mean that all of its militants are bound to the party’s decisions.) In the party Marxist, Christian and American indigenous cosmovisions coexist.

The tasks ahead for the PSUV

According to General Muller Rojas, the main task is to organize the party territorially either on the basis of radical geography, which considers a special territorial division that takes into consideration cultural and economic plurality in regions, or following the traditional Venezuelan state territorial division. In any case the party must have a presence in the whole Venezuelan territory.

Second, the PSUV must build an alliance with the Patriotic Pole, even though many of its members are militants of the PSUV. The Patriotic Pole groups political organizations that have their own history, traditions and space, such as the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) Fatherland for All (PPT) and the People’s Electoral Movement (MEP). According to General Muller Rojas, it is necessary to forge an alliance between the PSUV and the Patriotic Pole in order to push ahead the socialist transformation of Venezuela.[4]

Third, the relationship between Chávez’s government and the party is symbiotic. The party is not merely the external support to the Bolivarian government. The party should be the promoter, the driving force of the revolution, in the understanding that the government does not dictate what to do to the party, but rather both government and party should work together and with the social movements.

Fourth, The PSUV should reduce the role of bureaucracy and maximize the role of ad-hoc structures. The political cadres of the PSUV must commit themselves more to “ad-hoc-cracy” than to bureaucracy, when they work supporting governmental plans in health, education or the economic field.

In sum, after the foundation congress PSUV’s militants have a chance to build a political party to help the people make irreversible the transition to socialism in Venezuela. This will require breaking the capitalist bureaucratic state and replacing it with the communal state based on people’s power, and resisting imperialist intervention. The PSUV’s cadres could make a great contribution in restoring the credibility of the concept of a revolutionary party in the eyes of the oppressed of the planet. If the PSUV succeeds in these goals it should be an invaluable contribution of Venezuelan people to the struggle for socialism in the planet.

Pending issues and questions

  1. Given the fact, that as General Muller Rojas stated, a party cannot be built in one year, it is understandable that President Chávez has been elected president of the PSUV. However, in the future this situation should change.
  2. The same cautionary note would apply regarding the power that the congress gave to President Chávez to appoint five vice-president to the party’s leadership (among them General Muller Rojas)
  3. It should be clearly understood that the PSUV is not the government and that the party’s role should be “the political controller of the objectives of the government and … keep a watch over it to ensure these objectives are carried out,” as the programmatic platform proposed.
  4. Five of 15 elected members of the executive committee are women. Will further progress be made in integrating women into the leadership of the party at all levels?
  5. What about the presence of the organized working class in the congress?
  6. Are capitalist elements still being admitted as members of the party? Are there capitalist elements in the party’s leadership?


[1] Fuentes, Federico. “The PSUV is born, destined to make history” http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=269

[2] Venezuela: Draft program and principles of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) p. 3 http://www.links.org.au/node/261

[3] http://www.socialistvoice.ca/2p=269

[4] United Party of Venezuela is an Instrument for Socialism. Pp. 4-5. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3295

Venezuela: “The PSUV is born, destined to make history”

By Federico Fuentes

(CARACAS) Addressing the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on March 2, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez proclaimed the new party to be “a party for the social battle, for the defense of the homeland.”

“If the homeland, the revolution were … attacked in a direct manner by the empire or its lackeys, each militant of this party should become a revolutionary soldier …”

“The PSUV is born, destined to make history,” Chavez said of the party whose creation he called for in December 2006 to unite the various groups and mass base among the poor that support the revolution. “Its fundamental role is to be … the biggest guarantee of [the revolution’s] permanence.”

That same weekend, 1,600 delegates at the founding congress approved the program and declaration of principles of the new party. The previous weekend Chavez was elected president of the party and the congress granted him the power to appoint five vice presidents, the first of which is retired General Alberto Muller Rojas.

Then on March 9, over 90,000 spokespeople, alternative spokespeople and the five heads of commissions elected from each of the more than 12,000 battalions (branches) participated in the election for the 15-person national directorate, as well as 15 alternative delegates to that body.

Political necessity

Speaking to Green Left Weekly, Muller Rojas explained that “the party was a political necessity” for Venezuela’s revolutionary process.

A veteran revolutionary, Muller Rojas headed Chavez’s successful 1998 presidential campaign. Muller Rojas was appointed to the technical commission to help create the PSUV when it was first initiated.

Describing Chavez’s old party, the Movement of the Fifth Republic (MVR), as an “electoral club with diverse interests,” Muller stated that until now “no structured force, with clearly marked out political objectives [and] which united” all pro-Chavez forces had existed in the revolution.

Between April and June of 2007, some 5.7 million people signed up to join the new party, an expression of popular enthusiasm for a political instrument to serve the revolution. Local battalions were created, with delegates from every 7-12 battalions coming together to form socialist circumscriptions (districts). From these circumscriptions the delegates to the founding congress were elected.

Expressing satisfaction with the founding congress, Muller Rojas remarked that “you cannot construct a party in one year — we have a multitude of 5.7 million people who enrolled in the party and it will take years to build such a party, particularly due to the lack of political culture, after 40 or 50 years of the exclusion of the majority from politics.”

Debates and tensions

The congress, which began on January 12, was marked by a number of debates and tensions. Chavez, citing Fidel Castro, stated in his March 2 speech that the party was “the revolution within the revolution.”

The party has become a central battleground for the future of the revolution, as the grassroots attempt to impose its will on bureaucratic and right-wing sectors it feels are holding back the revolution.

Regarding the debate at the congress that occurred over whether to explicitly define the party as not only anti-imperialist (as the right wing attempted to limit the program to) but also anti-capitalist, Muller Rojas expressed his satisfaction that the congress had adopted a “definitive position against capitalism.”

Other debates flared up over the supposed expulsion from the PSUV of National Assembly deputy Luis Tascon after he publicly raised allegations of corruption in the infrastructure ministry.

Although the congress never voted on his expulsion, two central leaders of the congress organizing committee, Jorge Rodriguez and Diosdado Cabello (governor of Miranda, a leader of the Chavista right and brother of the former infrastructure minister implicated in Tascon’s allegations) announced on state television he had been expelled.

Discontent among delegates forced a backdown, with the question of Tascon’s expulsion deferred until after the congress.

There were also widespread concerns raised over the conduct of the congress, specifically the election process for the leadership of the party.

A letter to Chavez signed by a significant number of congress delegates argued it was necessary to “profoundly revise the internal processes that during the founding congress have unfolded and which we feel makes vulnerable democratic participation, transparency, internal unity, the confidence of militants, the image of the party in the country and the international community.”

Gonzalo Gomez, a delegate from Caracas working-class barrio Catia and member of Socialist Tide (a collection of left militants in the PSUV) argued that although these issues were problematic, they were understandable in the context of the short time available to found the party and the urgency of the task.

These criticisms, he explained, need to be taken into consideration for bettering the internal processes of the party in the future.

Regarding the Tascon dispute, Gomez argued that besides the need to have first established the program and principles as a basis for who can and can’t be a member, as well statutes to define a democratic procedure for expulsions, the real question is: “What is the biggest danger for the revolution? That people carry out actions outside of the framework of the discipline of the organization, or is the biggest danger that of the violations of the principles and ethics of the party, and the existence of corruption within the revolution, the state and the government?”

Battling bureaucracy

Following a strong campaign by delegates, the declaration of principles was amended to include the following paragraph: “The inefficiency in the exercise of public power, bureaucratism, the low level of participation of the people in the control and management of government, corruption and a widening gap between the people and government, threaten [to undermine] the trust that the people have placed in the Bolivarian revolution.”

Drawing on the lessons of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky — a bitter opponent of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union under Stalin — Muller Rojas added that the biggest danger the party faced was bureaucratism.

He argued this “tends to create a new class, make party life much more rigid, where the party loses flexibility and where what happens is what happened to the party in the USSR.”

This is more dangerous than the attacks from imperialism and the counter-revolution, Muller Rojas argued.

Asked about differences within the party, Muller Rojas said: “I personally see tendencies as something very positive. I don’t believe in the idea of single thought nor dogmatic thought.” He added that given the great majority of aspiring PSUV members don’t come from the old parties of the left, there has not yet been the creation of organized currents or factions.

The great diversity of the party was reflected in the election of the national leadership, he added. “There we have everything — afro-descendents, indigenous, whites, youth with different ideological positions.”

In the elections “people did not follow the slates that had been circulating supposedly representing different tendencies,” Gonzalo said. “In regards to the national leadership, we could say that neither the most radical sectors nor the most conservative sectors were elected.”

Forged in the midst of a revolutionary process, the PSUV has some enormous tasks ahead.

“We are the government and the government is the party,” said Muller Rojas. “It is an intimate relationship. It is not just an external support to the government, we have to commit ourselves to finding the greatest efficiency in public policies, cooperating with the government in implementing these policies … particularly the development of popular power with is an extraordinary task.”

Gomez argued that “the party should be the promoter, the driving force of the policies of the government, so that it is not the government dictating to the party, but rather the government constructing its policies together with the party and with the social movements.”

(Green Left Weekly, March 14, 2008)

Venezuela Responds to World Food Crisis

Programs provide land, aid to working farmers

By John Riddell and Suzanne Weiss

Suzanne and John are members of the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition. The following are major portions of a presentation they made to members of the National Farmers Union in Grey County, Ontario, March 10, 2007.

The people of Venezuela are today campaigning to rebuild a devastated family farm economy. They have more problems than solutions, but still are making significant progress.

Venezuela is an oil-rich country. But that doesn’t mean that Venezuelans are rich: in poor countries, oil brings misfortune. The so-called free market ensured that oil exports were balanced by a flood of cheap imports that stunted Venezuelan manufacturing and devastated its agriculture.

So despite the oil, Venezuela remained poor – its income per person is about one-fifth of Canada’s. And a rich minority gets most of it; 65% live in desperate poverty. Over half, unable to get jobs, scrape by in what is called the “informal economy.”

For ‘holistic rural development’

When Hugo Chávez was elected as Venezuela’s president in 1998, only a fraction of Venezuela’s once flourishing farming sector was left. There were fewer than 300,000 farm families, and many of them were doing little farming. Much of its richest farmland was no longer utilized. Much was being held idle in huge estates. Agriculture made up only 6% of national production – extremely low for a country so rich in farming potential and so poor in industrial development. Three-quarters of Venezuela’s food was imported.

Soon after the election, the Venezuelan people adopted a new constitution that addressed this problem in terms not just of raising farm production but of rebuilding rural communities. It declares:

“The state will promote conditions for holistic rural development guaranteeing the farming population an adequate level of wellbeing, as well as their incorporation into national development.”

The government stated in 2004 that farming is “the basic foundation for the preservation of a culture” and of “a way of life.” (“ALBA and Food Security,” Bancoex, February 5)

It is government policy to promote family farming as the best way to achieve this cultural goal and as the most efficient form of agriculture.

In Venezuela, 5% of landowners hold three-quarters of the land. The constitution deplores this situation, declaring that “the predominance of large estates is contrary to the national interest.” President Chávez explains this with a biblical quotation from the prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, tell there be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.”

As Venezuela sees it, reliance on food imports endangers the security of its food supply.

Venezuelan farmers cannot compete with highly subsidized U.S. exports, and with the big lead that U.S. agriculture has developed in technology and infrastructure, but attempts to protect producers are denounced as attacks on “free trade.”

Meanwhile, the predatory tactics of a handful of corporate giants are making farmers “more and more dependent on the purchase of expensive inputs of transnational companies.” (Bancoex)

Land reform

The heart of Venezuela’s agricultural program is a land reform that aims to distribute idle land to small farmers or farming cooperatives, using both state-owned land and expropriated portions of private estates with compensation.

The reform is moderate, leaving untouched large estates that are in production. Yet it has led to a wave of violence in the countryside. Assassins in the pay of large landowners have killed almost 200 farm activists. The reform has also met with obstruction from government bureaucrats, judges, and police.

Farmers, who face lawless, chaotic conditions in the countryside, receive weak legal and police support. Infrastructure is lacking – for example, the rural road system is very poor, so it is hard to market products. State officials appointed under the old regime are often unhelpful.

Nonetheless, by 2004, 125,000 families had received inalienable title to four million acres – often land they were already cultivating – and there’s been much progress since.

Many of the new farms are independent family enterprises; others are cooperatives, and there’s a full-time training program for those who are joining or forming new co-ops. Producer co-ops are mostly small and often family-based. There are also co-ops that process or transport food.

Close to $1 billion a year has been invested in agricultural development. Low-interest loans have been provided to small farmers. And food production has increased in each of the last three years – 12% in all.

Meanwhile, the government has moved to counter hunger among the poor. It slapped price controls on basic foods. A new network of 14,000 state-run groceries stores, called Mercal, provides cut-rate food in poor districts, and another network of 6,000 community-run kitchens, using donated space and labour, provides free meals each day to a million of Venezuela’s neediest.

A visit with Venezuelan farmers

While we were in Venezuela in November and December, we met residents of the town of Libertador, in the state of Caribobo, who had taken up farming on idle land.

We met Maria Morillo, president of a communal government formed by about 200 farm families living in a hill district called Mont Vernont. She told a dramatic story. In the early days of the Bolivarian government, she and her neighbours had occupied an idle farm, refused to accept the landlord’s eviction order, fought off an armed attack by his thugs (two farmers were wounded), and finally won title under the land reform law.

Mont Vernont farmers set up communal councils in each of the area’s 14 hamlets, which in Venezuela have authority to decide on and administrate local improvements. They worked to bring in health, electricity, schooling, and other services.

Mont Vernont is famous in Liberator for the success of its first electrification project. The farmers got funds to wire up one of their hamlets. By working some angles and contributing some free labour, they managed to stretch the money to cover electrifying not one but three hamlets. Such community control means cheap government.

As president, Maria visits the 14 communities to check on progress. She goes on foot and can reach three hamlets in a day. In these isolated rural communities, everything cries out for action. We reached another mountain farming community, Las Vegas del Torrito, by the worst road we’ve ever seen. At one point it dived into a gully and splashed across a stream, obviously passable only in dry weather and only by a truck or four-wheel-drive. Garbage was burning in piles by the side of the road.

There are 23 farm families in Las Vegas. The communal council decided to put human needs before issues such as roads and garbage. Their first project was a community building—a classroom, meeting room, and consulting area for a visiting Cuban doctor. A school is under construction. They have council assemblies every two weeks with attendance of between 40 and 100.

Bureaucratic obstruction

We also found in Libertador several examples of the obstruction farmers face from a conservative state bureaucracy.

There are small hog raising operations in the municipality, which generate manure that threatens local water supplies. The local government developed a solution: septic tanks that would eliminate pollution and odor while generating gas that can be burned for cooking. But the project was quashed by the ministry of the environment, on the grounds of zoning regulations.

There had been other incidents of this sort, like a ministry ban against construction of ponds where small farmers could raise trout.

What explanations do the ministry provide? “None whatsoever,” says Libertador mayor Argenis Loreto. “Just as we always say: this bureaucracy is eating us alive… We can’t change things with this type of state…. I’d like to dissolve the municipal administration and create a confederation of community governments.”

Battling shortages

During our visit, many basic food items were in short supply, especially in the Mercal stores. The shortages were causing discontent.

Partly, this reflects the success of efforts to improve living standards of working people. Venezuela’s poor now have more money in hand (more than double, by one estimate), and they are buying food at subsidized prices. They are eating better. Demand for milk has risen 50% in eight years. By another measure, demand for food rose by more than a third in three years.

Corruption is also a factor. Some subsidized food was being diverted from the Mercals and sold privately.

Market forces make matters worse. Scare tactics by the right-wing media have encouraged panic buying. Importers brought in too little food. Distributors resisted price controls by hoarding. Large amounts of food – often subsidized food – were being smuggled out of the country.

Public exasperation was increased by the fact that these problems were all foreseeable.

In recent months, the government has responded decisively. Price controls and import restrictions have been eased. Funds have been allocated to reinvigorate and expand the Mercal chain. Mercal stores have been placed under community control. Most importantly, a large state-owned food distributor has been established to import food on a massive scale for the Mercal network.

World food crisis

President Chávez believes that the food shortages in Venezuela are also symptoms of a looming crisis of supply on a world scale. He recently quoted an article from Canada’s National Post (January 7, 2008), reporting a speech by a Bank of Montreal investment expert. “A new crisis is emerging, a global food catastrophe,” the expert said. Raw food prices are up 22% in a year. Corn prices are up 44%. The U.S. produces more than half the world’s corn, and its exports are expected to shut off in three years.

Two dozen companies control world food supplies, says the bank’s expert.

Chávez identifies three causes of world food shortage, all of them hard to reverse.

  1. An increase in world demand, particularly for meat and dairy.
  2. A decline in yields, caused by global warming.
  3. “George Bush’s crazy plan to use food to make gasoline.”

Massive investment

The answer? In Chávez’s words, “With the grace of God, we will make Venezuela a powerhouse of food production.” Venezuela aims to increase cattle herds 50% in four years; to increase food production 2½ times over. The pace of government investment in agriculture has been stepped up greatly.

Many new socially owned food processing plants are being opened under community control. For example, on January 10, 2008, Chávez opened a milk processing centre, one of the largest in Latin America, in the state of Zulia. The centre’s history is typical of many of these projects. It began 47 years ago and was government-owned until 1995. Then it was then sold to an Italian firm, Parmalat, which ran it into the ground. The plant lay idle until the government repurchased it last year.

Zulia is an important cattle-raising area, and the plant will help local dairy farmers market their product. But it takes more than a single plant to create a healthy environment for farming. Alongside the milk plant, Chávez announced an array of measures for Zulia’s farmers:

  • A centre for genetic support of livestock herds.
  • A meatpacking plant.
  • A branch of the government’s Agrarian Bank, providing low-interest loans to farmers.
  • The rebuilding of 226 kilometers of rural roads.
  • Creating of a rural planning district, which will implement an integrated plan for supply of electricity, water, schools, health, security, and other services.

Such socially owned processing plants can fit into a farm marketing system that cuts out the profiteering private food monopolies. Small farmers get preference in sales to the socially owned processing plants, whose product can be passed on to the state distributor, and then to the Mercal community grocery, and finally to the consumer.

Venezuela’s agricultural efforts are also expressed internationally through its alliance with other countries that seek a path independent of U.S. control – an alliance called ALBA (Spanish for “dawn”). One result of this cooperation that we saw is a large vegetable garden in downtown Caracas – a demonstration site that was established with help from Cuba.

A massive challenge

Farmers in Venezuela, as in Canada, are aging. The young generation is mostly in the cities and has mostly lost touch with its farming roots. Venezuela needs to persuade tens of thousands of young people to return to the land. How will this be possible?

It will take more than economic support. For farming to flourish, it needs a rich rural culture. But this is Venezuela, where farmers cannot easily get a truck or tractor, let alone satellite TV and Internet. How can such needs be met in a poor country, with urgent problems on every side crying out for solution?

What’s more, the country is locked in conflict and threatened with attack from abroad, and the very survival of the social experiment led by Chávez is in question. Farmers cannot always count on the sympathy of government bureaucrats or police. And Zulia, where Chávez opened the milk processing plant, is often hit by right-wing violence initiated by paramilitary gangs that cross the border from neighboring Colombia.

So it won’t be surprising if Venezuela finds it difficult to achieve the high goals it has set for the expansion of food production. But its people deserve credit for setting the right tasks and tackling them with energy.

Support for small-scale farmers and rebuilding of family farming is an urgent priority worldwide. In this struggle, farmers in Canada share a common interest with the popular movement led by Hugo Chávez and with Venezuelan farmers.