Obama attacks Venezuela's socialist revolution

Despite campaigning for “change we can believe in”, Barack Obama has attacked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who leads Venezuela’s socialist revolution, as “a force that has interrupted progress in the region” during an interview on January 12 with the Spanish-language TV network Univision. This was not the first time Obama had denounced the Chavez government. Addressing the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) last May 23, Obama said: “In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his actions just serve his own power.”

In unison with the corporate media, Obama is now leading the US imperialists’ campaign of lies and slander against the Chavez government. In his CANF speech, Obama claimed that “my policy towards the Americas will be guided by the simple principle that what’s good for the people of the Americas is good for the United States”. In reality, his administration’s policy is to defend US corporate domination in Latin America. This is why Obama seeks to undermine Venezuela’s revolution, a revolution that has improved the lives of millions of people across the Americas.

Achievements of Venezuela’s revolution

This is well-documented in a report released on January 30 by the Venezuelan Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information. According to the report, the proportion of Venezuela’s population living in extreme poverty has fallen from 42% in 1998 when Chavez was first elected president to 9.5% last year; general poverty has declined from 50.5% in 1998 to 33.4%. Unemployment has been halved over the last 10 years, falling to 6.1% by early 2009 (by comparison, the official US unemployment rate is 7.2% and rising). Venezuela has the highest minimum wage in Latin America (US$372 per month in 2007). In addition, workers receive a food bonus each month worth more than $139. Pensions now equal the minimum wage.

With the support of socialist Cuba, the free healthcare system known as Barrio Adentro has established 6531 health centres, 479 integral diagnosis centres, 543 integral rehabilitation centres, 26 high technology centres, 13 popular clinics, 459 opticians’ clinics and 3019 facilities providing medical and dental care. Almost 90% of Venezuelans have benefited from Barrio Adentro. Nutrition levels have improved through the setting up of 15,000 subsidised food markets.

Illiteracy was overcome in 2005. Free education has expanded significantly, as have enrolments, with the Chavez government organising Mission Robinson II and Mission Ribas to target people previously excluded from education. There are currently 571,917 students in free university courses.

An improvement in gender equality can be seen not only at the top, with the proportion of women in the National Assembly rising from 10% in 1998 to 16.5% today, but also at the grassroots level, where 60% of Communal Council representatives are women. Housework is now constitutionally recognised as a contribution to economic activity and an allowance to housewives has begun to be paid from the national government.

While tens of thousands of new public houses have been built, there are plans to end the housing shortage completely with the construction of 1.6 million new public housing units by 2016.

History of the revolution

Such material progress, which Obama ignores in his speeches, exists thanks to the ability of the Chavez leadership to organise working people to take political — and increasingly economic — power from the US-backed capitalist minority who had plundered the country for their own and US corporate interests.

Chavez emerged as a leader of Venezuela’s poor majority in 1992 when he led a rebellion of 6000 soldiers against the US-backed neoliberal government of Carlos Andres Perez, who had imposed savage cutbacks to government spending on health and education accompanied by a doubling of the price of gasoline and other basic commodities — sparking a spontaneous popular rebellion, the Caracazo, in February 1989. The Caracazo was brutally crushed by Andrez Perez, who sent the army into the streets, guns blazing, killing thousands of poor and hungry civilians.

After being released from prison in 1994, Chavez travelled the country building up a Movement for a Fifth Republic (MVR) to contest the 1998 presidential election. He called for a constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution enshrining principles of “economic democracy”; a civil-military movement to make the military an instrument in the service of the popular masses rather than the capitalist oligarchy and US imperialism; and for Venezuelan oil resources to be taken out of the hands of the oligarchy so that they could be used to achieve social equality.

Chavez won the 1998 presidential election with 56% of the vote, the highest vote for any Venezuelan presidential candidate in over 40 years. A new constitution was widely discussed and then approved by 71% of voters in a referendum in December 1999. The new constitution established the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and called for the “participation of the people in the development, execution and control of the public power”.

US aggression escalated when the Chavez government moved to take control of the country’s oil industry in 2001 and direct its revenues toward meeting the needs of the poor majority. A US-backed military coup led by Venezuela’s capitalist oligarchy on April 11, 2002, was defeated in just two days by a workers’ and soldiers’ revolution which restored Chavez as the country’s president.

The military’s top brass, drawn from wealthy families, had led the coup. But the majority of junior officers and soldiers, drawn from poor working class and peasant backgrounds, supported Chavez’s view that the country’s oil wealth should be used to meet the needs of the working people, not just the capitalist elite. Rebel soldiers united with hundreds of thousands of the poor on the streets of every major city and rapidly smashed the coup regime.

In the months following this revolution, the Chavez leadership purged the military of those who had supported the capitalist coup. As a result, Chavez’s government was then able to act as a working people’s government, basing itself on the mobilisation of the working people, in and out of uniform. The political revolution to transfer state power from the capitalist class to the working people had been fundamentally accomplished.

In December 2002, the top capitalist managers of the formally state-owned PDVSA oil company organised a managers and technicians strike, reducing oil production from 3 million barrels a day to 150,000, in an attempt to create economic chaos and thus destabilise the revolutionary Chavez government. Local police forces still loyal to the capitalist oligarchy tried to defend PDVSA installations against oil production workers who attempted to maintain oil production and exports, but they were quickly brushed aside by the armed forces now loyal to the working people and their government.

Taking control of PDVSA in January 2003, with its enormous revenues and logistical resources, ushered in the socialist revolution — the first step in building a socialist state that organises expropriated capitalist property into a centrally planned economy that can meet the needs of working people rather than capitalist profits.

Despite Chavez continuing to secure victories in national elections, such as winning the 2006 presidential election with over 62% of the vote, Washington has poured more resources into efforts to overthrow Chavez, including reactivating the US Navy’s Fourth Fleet.. Obama is continuing the Bush administration’s attempts to overthrow the Chavez-led working people’s government and restore political power to Venezuela’s capitalist minority. Obama’s policy toward Venezuela, and the rest of Latin America, is not based on “what’s good for the people of the Americas” but what’s profitable for US corporations.