Cuba and Venezuela: one revolution

By Marcus Pabian

Arriving in Havana on June 16 for a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother, retired Cuban president Fidel Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that Cuba and Venezuela were undergoing “one and the same revolution”. The revolutionary socialist governments of Venezuela and Cuba are organising the working people of their two countries to reduce material and cultural poverty and increase genuine democracy. They are showing poor people across the world an inspiring alternative to capitalism.

Chavez was in Havana to discuss with the Cuban leaders how the two governments can respond to the skyrocketing international prices for food and fuel, as well as the increases in global poverty these prices rises, and the growing problem of climate change, are causing. According to Cuba’s ACN news agency, Chavez said these problems represented “a crisis of ideas, of governments, of the model, of capitalism in general”.

At a two-hour meeting on June 17 between Chavez and the Castro brothers, they decided to further integrate their two countries to confront these crises. According to a June 17 Associated Press dispatch from Havana and a June 18 article in Granma, the daily paper of Communist Party of Cuba, the three leaders agreed to strengthen the social missions their governments are collaborating on, and to increase joint economic ventures between their countries.

Integration between the two revolutions took off following the successful struggle by Venezuela’s working people’s government, born out of the April 2002 popular uprising against a CIA-backed military coup, to take control of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA — the largest company in Latin America — from the country’s capitalist oligarchy. Expropriation of PDVSA by the Chavez government opened the socialist stage of Venezuela’s Bolivarian national-democratic revolution. It has enabled the government to secure the funding and administrative resources to massively expand the government’s social missions, aimed at providing Venezuela’s poor majority with vitally needed social services.

The social missions have attracted the attention of people across the world and have dramatically and immediately improved the lives of the majority of Venezuelans and in particular the poorest. One of the first and still most far-reaching missions was to create an effective, free and complete national healthcare system. It was named mission Barrio Adentro — “Inside the Neighbourhood” — to signify its attention to poor people living in the slums of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities. Socialist Cuba played the major role in turning this goal into a reality by sending 20,000 health professionals to participate in Barrio Adentro. With tens of thousands of Cubans on the ground in Venezuela through the social missions, solidarity has grown among ordinary Venezuelans with the Cuban people and their revolution.

On July 16, Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage inaugurated one of the latest developments in the healthcare system being constructed in Venezuela with Cuba’s help — a high technology diagnosis medical centre in the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo staffed by Cuban health professionals. The centre will provide X-ray scans, magnetic resonance imaging, diagnostic ultrasound and other specialised services free of charge. Lage said the work of Cuban health professionals in Venezuela “is one of the priorities of the Cuban revolution”.

In return for such assistance from Cuba, Venezuela has taken a sledge hammer to the US economic blockade of Cuba, begun in 1962. This blockade has been aimed at imposing punishing costs on what revolutionary Cuba spends on vitally needed imports and at restricting its export earnings. Reuters reported on July 21 that Venezuela and Cuba organised 300 cooperation economic projects in 2007, with 58 manufacturing and 12 agricultural joint ventures being funded by Venezuela across Cuba. As a result, health clinics, schools, roads, water systems, and housing are being upgraded right across the island.

A major project is the restoration of the Soviet-era Cienfuegos oil refinery which had been moth-balled during the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its provision of crude oil to Cuba. The US$5 billion project will be an enormous development for the Cuban economy and is larger than of all Western capitalist investment in Cuba between 1995 and 2000.

Achievements of the Venezuelan revolution

Free health care

When Hugo Chavez won the presidential election in 1998 there were 1628 primary health care centres in Venezuela. Mision Barrio Adentro (“Inside the Neighbourhood”) was one of the first major social programs launched by the Chavez government (on April 16, 2003) after gaining control of the PDVSA oil company. With the help of 20,000 Cuban health professionals, staffing many newly built clinics reaching 70% of the population, this new mission has continually expanded a new free healthcare system.

Through Mision Barrio Adentro, free health care has been brought in with 8621 primary health care centres and 922 integral diagnostic centres and high technology centres equipped with advanced medical technology. While only 1628 primary physicians cared for a population of 23.4 million in 1998, today 19,571 attend to a population of 27 million — a 1200% increase. In its first year more than 18 million people were treated and more than 50,000 lives saved. Infant mortality, a universal indicator of health, has dropped from 25 per 1000 live births in 2002 to 18 per 1000 in 2006.

Mision Miracle, launched in 2005 with Cub’a help, has restored the eyesight of 86,231 people not only in Venezuela but in other Latin American countries.

Environmental sustainability

Despite having an economy built around oil production, Venezuela is breaking new ground toward environmental sustainability. Mision Arbol, established in early 2006, has reforested 38,200 hectares of land with 33.6 million trees. Conservation minister Miguel Rodriguez has explained that this was only possible due to the organisation of 2418 conservationist committees, composed of 54,495 members, taking responsibility for the collection of 106 tonnes of seeds.

Mision Revolucion Energetica was launched on November 17, 2006, with the aim of reducing energy usage and switching to sustainable energy sources. The mission seeks to create a solar panel manufacturing plant with the help of Vietnam that will produce more solar street lights, some of which are already being installed in various pilot projects. The mission has replaced 79 million incandescent light globes across the country. The mission aims by 2012 to reduce the use of oil in electricity production by 25 million barrels a year.

Free education

Chavez’s government has made education one of the key pillars of the revolution. The national literacy program Mision Robinson, taught more than 1 million Venezuelans to read and write between July 2003 and December 2005, eliminating illiteracy according to UNESCO. Mision Sucre has also dramatically increased the numbers of Venezuelans enrolling in higher education with 350,000 students in university-level education programs as of 2006.Today, 10 universities are being constructed with plans for another 28 completely new universities as well as a program for upgrading an additional 29 universities. Overall the numbers of students in the country has increased massively. In 1996-97 there were around 5.8 million students while 10 years later that number was 11.8 million.