Heryck Rangel, president of the Youth Institute in Venezuelan capital of Caracas and an activist in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), spoke at evening public meetings and lunch-time campus meetings in Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney last month at the invitation of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the university-based Cuba-Venezuela Solidarity clubs.
During these public meetings, Rangel provided a brief history of the Venezuelan revolutionary struggle beginning with the 1989 Caracazo, when tens of thousands of Venezuelans rioted against the neoliberal economic policies that where being implemented by then-president Carlos Andres. However, most of his presentation was devoted to the gains and contradictions the revolution has faced since Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998. Below are excerpts from the talk he gave at Melbourne’s La Trobe University on August 27.
In Venezuela there has been a rebirth of hope. To lead a revolution is not easy, it is a permanent struggle. However, there are many contradictions in this revolution. We are a country that is very rich but, on the other hand, the majority of people have been very poor. Venezuela’s wealth had not been distributed to the majority of the people. That situation created a social pressure that exploded in 1989 in what was known as the Caracazo, when our rulers tried to impose neoliberal polices. But the masses were fed up with these polices.
The people wanted to take power in the country. For this reason, in 1992, Chavez led a failed military coup. But when he gave himself up he said one phrase that stayed in the minds of many people. He said “for now”. While in prison, his ideas increasingly gained support in Venezuela. Chavez represented the change that people wanted. Because of the increased political support for this change, Chavez won the presidential campaign in 1998. When Chavez first won, he moved to change the constitution, which the people had voted for. It gave rights to the people that they never had before. Because of this, the opposition began to mobilise and fight back.
In April 2002 we suffered a huge blow with the coup against Chavez. But something extraordinary happened – the people came out onto the streets to call for his return. And they won. In early 2003, we suffered another attack. We lost US$30 billion during the economic coup, when the opposition paralysed the oil industry. There wasn’t petrol for ambulances, nor gas for cooking. In response, the people took over the oil industry. The workers took control of the management of the oil industry. History has shown us that workers can take control of industry. In 2004 the opposition forced us to organise a recall referendum. Even though they opposed our constitution they tried to use it against us, but they lost. Then in 2006, there was the presidential election in which Chavez won with 7 million votes.
The majority of business and the media have been against Chavez, but the people are convinced that the only way out for Venezuela is socialism. Capitalism by its nature is a system that excludes. It attacks human rights such as limiting people’s access to education and health care because they do not have money. Capitalism reduces people to consumers.
In Venezuela, poverty has diminished and education and health care is free. We have shown that a new system is possible and that real democracy is about giving power to the people. A new form of democracy has been developed in Venezuela comprising of communal councils. Furthermore, university student numbers have increased from 250,000 in 1998 to 3 million today. Universities have been set up in locations where they have never existed before. But even more important is that the UN has declared us a territory free of illiteracy. With that, people can now liberate themselves.
It has been 200 years since our war of independence, but we where not free. We passed from the colonialist hands of the Spanish to the imperialist hands of the United States. Having petroleum has been a curse. The US capitalists want to take it and control it; that is why we have been always in constant tension with the US rulers. All the campaigns against Chavez come from the United States. There is much evidence of this, even via the CIA declassified information.
We are living in a period of the dictatorship of international capital. However, we in Venezuela have escaped from the darkness and now that we have seen the light we do not want to go back to the darkness. But this has a very high price. We are paying for our achievements; we are part of the “axis of evil” together with Cuba and Bolivia. But with the help of Cuba we have been able to provide a very good health care system.
We want to construct a new unity in Latin America. That is why we proposed ALBA [the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas]. It is a new form of international cooperation that is based on solidarity and not commercial competition. Our countries are very poor; they have the same problems. Our region of Latin America could be self-sustaining in energy. There is petrol in Venezuela, gas in Bolivia and hydroelectricity in Brazil.
In the final instance, this is an ideological battle. It is between those that believe in individualism and those that believe in collectivism. The world can not continue to support the capitalist mode of development. Humanity could produce food for 12 billion and even though there are 7 billion in the world today, there are still 2 billion that suffer from starvation.
We need to help to change the world. We can no longer stand by with our arms crossed. If we do that, we are accomplices to the problems. In Venezuela, we have shown that things can change. Even though there are many problems and contradictions, we think that we are on the right path. We are providing the seeds for socialism, such as the creation of socialist enterprises and collective organising and ownership.
Our socialism should be original. Today we still have not seen the new men and women that Che spoke about. It is a question of values. To provide the seeds for new values is very hard work. We dream of a new world.
Oscar Wilde once said that the only bad thing bad about socialism is that it took away your free afternoons. In Venezuela, it has taken away our weekends and nights also. But we will not rest until we have a society of equals. Until our dream comes true; until we have a better society, where life will be the number one priority, and I think that it is possible in other countries and that it is necessary.